MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Black History Month celebrates the contributions African Americans have made to our country.
And a Minneapolis museum highlights those contributions in our state.
The Minnesota African American Heritage Museum and Gallery is relatively new, and it’s the only museum of its kind in the state.
“For those of us who wanted a museum, for my part, I couldn’t let go of the idea. We are kind of a 365-day black history story from Minnesota,”co-founder Coventry Cowens said.
For Coventry it was surprising how little people knew about Black History in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
It bothered her so much that she and others decided the only way to educate was to provide a place to learn.
“If you read the guest book it will say ‘well, I didn’t know that about my neighbors.’ These are things that your neighbors have been doing for many years,” Coventry said.
The museum on Penn Avenue in North Minneapolis is essentially a walking history from contemporary artists to people like George Bonga, considered the first African American born in Minnesota.
“And he became a fur trader and spoke three languages,” Coventry said.
There’s a tribute to black men and women from the Northstar State who wanted to serve their country during the great world wars, even though the military was segregated at the time.
One display highlights the Great Migration that began in 1900, when African Americans were recruited to come and work in factories, farms and mills in Minnesota and other northern states.
“Before that about 80 percent of African Americans lived in the south,” Coventry said.
The museum has a Green Book, which helped black travelers find food and lodging as they ventured north.
“Sometimes those roads from Mississippi, Alabama, Indiana were not that safe traveling long distances,” Coventry said.
For Coventry, perhaps the most important exhibit centers on black innovation. Architect Clarence “Cap” Wigington is responsible for several recognizable buildings in Minneapolis and St. Paul.
“This is Nicollet Island. The building on Nicollet Island,” Coventry said while pointing at one of Wigington’s projects.
And then there’s Dr. Reatha Clark King, who still lives in the Twin Cities.
“We call her one of those hidden figures. She invented tubing for the Apollo 11 space mission,” Coventry said.
“It’s a good thing to have it here, stapled in North Minneapolis,” Keith Murray said.
Keith is one of more than 5,000 people who have visited so far.
“I think it’s really important because it teaches the history and where they came from and where they are now and where they want to go,” Murray said.
And what they want most of all is to use the past as a guide for the future.
“We are trying to tell a story that children, and especially school children can understand,” Coventry said.
The Museum is located on the 4th floor at the intersection of Penn and Plymouth Avenue in North Minneapolis.