Posted by: Kath Usitalo | February 3, 2012

The Wright Museum: Black History Month And Beyond

The Wright Museum is in Detroit's Cultural Center

February is designated Black History Month, which grew out of Negro History Week launched in 1926 to raise awareness of contributions of African Americans. In 1976 the week expanded to a month-long observance, but in Detroit’s Cultural Center “It is a 365-days-a-year opportunity,” says Juanita Moore, president of The Wright Museum.

The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History was founded in 1965 by a Detroit physician to preserve and share Black history and culture. Now in its third location The Wright Museum, at 125,000 square feet, is the largest facility in the world dedicated to telling the African American story through a permanent collection, visiting exhibitions, programs and events.

Figures and sound effects depict historical scenes in about 20 galleries of the "And Still We Rise" exhibit

The current building opened in 1997 and features a spectacular rotunda, 100-feet in diameter, with a 65-foot high glass dome.

Its central exhibit, And Still We Rise: Our Journey Through African American History and Culture, follows the path of a people from ancient civilization to modern times.

Artifacts, photos and life size dioramas dramatically depict key events of that journey. A series of galleries covers centuries, from before the African slave trade to the transport of captives across the ocean, the Underground Railroad, Civil Rights movement, Motown and more recent events in Detroit—including an encounter with an uncanny likeness of the late Mayor Coleman A. Young.

A likeness of Coleman A. Young, Detroit's Mayor from 1974 through 1993 (TJ Kozak photo)

Especially moving are the scenes that recreate slave branding, a slave market, and the inhumane conditions aboard a slave ship.

Accompanying audio suggests the pain of the hot iron against skin; the auctioning of a slave; and the sound of chained captives conversing and crying mingled with the squeaking of rats in the belly of the boat.

There’s much to see and digest in the 22,000-square foot And Still We Rise exhibit, but there’s more to the museum including:

A is for Africa
An interactive “dictionary” with 26 hands-on stations designed to explain people, objects to young kids. Ongoing

The Chris Webber Collection: Exceptional People During Extraordinary Times, 1755-Present
The National Basketball Association All-Star shares his collection of significant items from African Americans including a 1st edition (1901) copy of the book Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington and a 1964 postcard from Malcolm X to Alex Haley. Got to love James Brown’s show-stopping, maroon, crystal-studded vest and pants performance costume. Through April 29, 2012

Tabletop "Atlanta Shacks" by Beverly Buchanan (provided photo)

Mixing Metaphors:The Aesthetic, Social and Political in African American Art
More than 90 works by three dozen artists including photos, paintings, drawings and sculpture; I especially liked the 1958 picture of Sarah Vaughan by jazz chronicler Charles “Chuck” Stewart, the colorful Out Chorus (Rhythm Section) by Romare Beardon, and foam core Atlanta Shacks by Beverly Buchanan. Through June 3, 2012

Moving to His Own Beat – Fela: The Man, The Movement, The Music
Learn about the life and high-energy Afrobeat music of Nigerian musician, composer and activist Fela Anikulapo-Kuti (1938-1997). Known as Fela, he coined the term Afrobeat in the late ’60’s to describe his mix of funk, jazz, rock and African rhythms. Social issues influenced his music and philosophy. See African instruments made of gourds, wood, and other natural materials, a Fela stage costume and timeline of the popular figure’s life (a million attended his funeral). Through April 1, 2012

The exhibit coincides with the performance of the Tony award-winning musical “FELA!” at Detroit’s Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts, February 14-March 4, 2012.  

Felasophy (provided photo)

Black History Month activities at The Wright Museum include film and live peformances and art and music workshops. You can even take Hustle for History dance lessons on Sunday evenings. Check the calendar for details.

The museum store carries many books, music CDs, jewelry, African art, dolls, artwork and the usual assortment of T-shirts and trinkets. And a Michelle Obama Bobblehead.

Museum admission: $8 adults, $5 Seniors and Youth ages 3-12; under 3 free. Normally open Tuesday-Sunday, the museum will also be open on Mondays during Black History Month.

NOTE: I could have spent more time in the museum but was limited by a 2-hour parking meter. If you don’t want to feel rushed I suggest the nearby Cultural Center parking lot; entrance is on John R Street.

Visitor Info Clicks:

The Wright Museum


Pure Michigan

The Wright Museum's dome soars 65 feet above the rotunda floor



  1. […] I mentioned Friday about The Wright Museum and the FELA! exhibit, the Tony-Award winning musical celebrates the late Fela Kuti, […]

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