Collections at the Alexandria Black History Museum
The Alexandria Black History Museum’s (ABHM) mission is to enrich the lives of Alexandria’s residents and visitors, to foster tolerance and understanding, and to stimulate appreciation for the diversity of the African American experience. The ABHM uses its large collection to inspire the public to explore the integral relationship between African American history and other cultural traditions.
With a strong grounding in local Alexandria history, the collections reflect the national and international story of the African diaspora from the early 19th century through today. Photographs, paintings, furnishings, collectibles, and everyday objects provide a glimpse into the African American experience in Alexandria at home, work, and school, during worship and at recreation. Every item and record tell a story that links the past to the present.
Objects from the Collection
Important items from the museum collection representing the period from slavery to emancipation include: a receipt from Bruin’s Slave Jail in Alexandria, a manumission freeing a local enslaved woman, and a print entitled First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation Before the Cabinet, which shows President Lincoln’s cabinet hearing the Emancipation Proclamation for the first time. There is an 1862 biography about Mary S. Peake, an African American teacher who educated the children of people who had formerly been enslaved, and a signed autobiography by Frederick Douglass, abolitionist and orator.
The struggle for civil rights is well represented in the collection beginning with the museum building, part of which is in the former Robert Robinson Library. This segregated library was built in 1940 in response to the 1939 sit-in orchestrated by famed civil rights attorney, Samuel W. Tucker at the Alexandria Library on Queen Street. Tucker would later be presented the key to the City of Alexandria in 1971, shown above.
Celebrating the achievements of more recent Alexandrians, the Museum owns a wet suit and gear that belonged to Shirley Lee, the world’s first African American female scuba diver, and a basketball signed by Earl Lloyd, the first African American to play in the NBA. Both attended segregated Parker-Gray High School in Alexandria. The Museum also documents important national events that affect Alexandria and beyond, such as posters and other ephemera from the campaign and election of Barack Obama, the first African American president of the United States.
African American material culture is represented by dolls, children’s books, toys, religious artifacts, tools, Black Memorabilia, and items relating to the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter Movement.