Collections at the Alexandria Black History Museum

The Alexandria Black History Museum houses collections relating the history and accomplishments of African Americans in Alexandria.

Page updated on Feb 17, 2020 at 2:57 PM

Collections Highlights

Paintings, photographs, books and other memorabilia document the African American experience in Alexandria and Virginia from 1749 to the present. The entire collection includes over 3,000 items.

1940's Hawaiian Doll

Collection items include include Barack Obama 2008 campaign posters, commemorating a historic moment in U.S. history. Celebrating another trailblazer, the museum received a placard in memorial of Dr. Charles “Pruner” West, the first African American to play in the Rose Bowl. The Alexandria Black History Museum is now home to a pair of charcoal portraits, respectively depicting a man and a woman in turn of the century attire. A circa 1917 color newsprint entitled “The Colored Man is No Slacker” portrays a touching scene. It features a young African American man in uniform, saying farewell to his sweetheart as he departs with his regiment. The museum also has a whimsical collection of dolls from the 1930’s to the present day.  These pieces include folk art, travel souvenirs, and contemporary toys.

African American Churches Nina Tisara photo from United in the Spirit exhibit, 1995

This collection, including a one-hundred year-old church bible and communion items from one of Alexandria’s oldest African American churches supports the interpretation of African American churches in the 19th century. This collection is enhanced by photographs from a year-long exploration of worship in Alexandria African American churches by local photographer Nina Tisara in 1995.

African Objects

The museum has a collection of wood carvings from the west coast of Africa, many of these items are used as part of the museum’s education collection. These artifacts are used to help visitors understand African culture.

Carlton Funn Collection

In the late 1950s 7th Grade History teacher, Mr. Carlton Funn, Sr., began to collect posters, books, pamphlets, artifacts and more, to make his African American students “aware of their positive heritage,” stories lacking in the school’s history books. Over the next 50 years the collection grew in volume and scope to become the “National/International Cultural Exhibits (NICE),” an exhibition of almost 1,500 display boards “to promote awareness, human dignity and cultural understanding.”

Moss Kendrix Collection Portrait of Moss Kendrix, ca. 1950

A collection of over 900 photographs and 30 cubic feet of documents which examine the minority advertising market of 1950s and 1960s. The Moss Kendrix Organization, based in Washington, D.C., was one of the major black public relations firms in the nation. Newspapers and magazines that are no longer in print are a part of the collection. Among the photographs in the collection are unpublished celebrity commercial stills. Print a brochure on the Moss Kendrix Collection for more information.

Parker-Gray School Collection 

The Museum has a special collection on the history and graduates of the Parker-Gray School.  Print a brochure on the Parker-Gray Archive for more information on this collection.

Sherry Z. Sanabria Paintings

Sanabria’s African American historic site paintings are featured in Before the Spirits are Swept Away, an exhibition at the Museum. The Sanabria family generously donated 23 of her paintings to the Museum. She had a studio at Alexandria's Torpedo Factory Arts Center before she passed away in 2014. These paintings are part of Sanabria’s “Sites of Conscience” series, which has as its focus African American heritage, prisons, concentration camps, and mental hospitals. The Sites of Conscience series takes viewers to places of horror, places of pain and suffering, places we want to forget, but never should. The paintings will be used to explore slavery, interpretation, and preservation of African American sites in Virginia. 

Documents Alexandria Home News 

Documents in the collection include those related to the establishment of the first public schools for African American students in 1867, and those which relate to well-known African Americans in Alexandria. For example; museum holds the papers of Annie B. Rose an Alexandria civic activist and the daughter of Rev. Henry Bailey, who was sold into slavery from the notorious slave pen located at 1315 Duke Street in Alexandria. The papers of Ferdinand Day, civic activist and the first African American member of the Alexandria School board and other documents relating to local African American organizations in Alexandria. 

PhotographsMurphy photograph of an Alexandria Cab Company, ca. 1940s

The collection includes photographs by Eldrich Murphy, an African-American photographer who worked in Alexandria during the 1940s and 50s. Other photographic collections include, Spirit of the Neighborhood, an exploration of Alexandria’s African American neighborhoods in the 1990s, by photographer, Carol Siegel and United in the Spirit, an examination of worship in Alexandria’s African American churches by photographer Nina Tisara.

Collections Policies

Acquisitions. Objects may be added into the permanent collection by means of gift, bequest, or purchase. Clear title to the object must be held by the Museum. The object must be relevant to the interpretation and understanding of Alexandria’s African American history, which is reflected in the museum’s Mission Statement. Adequate history of the object must be established before it is accepted into the permanent collection. The donor must have clear title to the object and convey this title and all rights of ownership to the Museum without restrictions. The director may request that an appraisal of the object’s value be obtained from a professional appraiser at the donor’s expense. Staff will not knowingly accept any object which has been stolen or obtained in a false or suspicious manner. The Museum reserves the right to refuse any gift or bequest it does not deem appropriate and in the best interest of the Alexandria Black History Museum or the City of Alexandria.

Outgoing Loans. All institutions requesting a loan must complete a standard American Alliance of Museums (AAM) Standard Facilities Report, which allows the museum staff to evaluate the nature of the loan, insurance coverage (borne by the borrower), and the ability to provide acceptable security and collections care. The museum director reserves the right to refuse any loan request that is not deemed appropriate or does not reflect accepted professional standards of care in the facilities report. A formal request for the loan must be written by the borrowing institution and addressed to the Alexandria Black History Museum curator. This request must be submitted two months prior to the anticipated date of shipment. The borrower must acknowledge the Alexandria Black History Museum in the exhibit, exhibit catalogue, and any related publicity.