Founded in 1965, the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History has for over half a century been a leading institution dedicated to the African American experience.
Our mission is to open minds and change lives through the exploration and celebration of African American history and culture. Our vision is of a world in which the adversity and achievement of African American history inspire everyone toward greater understanding, acceptance and unity!
The Wright Museum houses over 35,000 artifacts and archival materials and is home to the Blanche Coggin Underground Railroad Collection, Harriet Tubman Museum Collection, Coleman A. Young Collection and the Sheffield Collection, a repository of documents of the labor movement in Detroit. The museum also features:
• And Still We Rise: Our Journey Through African American History and Culture, the museum’s 22,000 square foot, interactive core exhibit, which is the largest single exhibition on African American history in existence
• The Ford Freedom Rotunda and its 95-foot wide by 65-foot high glass dome; this architectural wonder is more than twice the width of the State Capitol dome and just one foot shy of the width of the U.S. Capitol dome
• Ring of Genealogy, a 37-foot terrazzo tile creation by artist Hubert Massey surrounded by bronze nameplates of prominent African Americans in history
• Inspiring Minds: African Americans in Science and Technology, a permanent exhibition focused on S.T.E.M. (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) concepts for children
• The Louise Lovett Wright Library and Robert L. Hurst Research Center
• The General Motors Theater, a 317-seat facility for live performances, film, presentations and more
• Over 300 public events annually including concert performances, theatrical productions, film screenings, lectures, and family and children’s programming. The museum also serves as a facility for countless private functions including weddings, anniversaries, corporate meetings and conferences, memorial services, and community events. All told, The Wright serves over half a million people annually through its exhibitions, programs, and events such as African World Festival.
“My legacy was my job. Everything I did was what I was supposed to do. I worked with untold numbers of mothers to deliver 7,000 babies in Detroit, partnered with Margaret Burroughs, founder of the DuSable Museum of African American History in Chicago, to form the African American Museums Association… I was committed to what I defined as ‘one of the most important tasks of our times,’ ensuring that generations, especially young African Americans, are made aware of and take pride in the history of their forbears and their remarkable struggle for freedom. An idea came to me that African Americans needed a museum to collect and preserve our history and culture. And, with the help of many minds and hands, that idea came to fruition.” ~ Dr. Charles H. Wright
Dr. Charles Wright, an obstetrician and gynecologist, envisioned an institution to preserve Black history after visiting a memorial to Danish World War II heroes in Denmark. As a result of this visit, he was convinced that African Americans needed a similar resource center to document, preserve and educate the public on their history, life and culture. On March 10, 1965, Dr. Wright, in partnership with a racially integrated group of 33 community members, established Detroit’s first International Afro-American Museum. The Museum, known by the acronym I AM, opened on January 30, 1966 at 1549 West Grand Boulevard with dozens of exhibits showcasing such items as African masks from Nigeria and Ghana and the inventions of Elijah McCoy. Also in 1966, the I AM traveling museum, housed in a converted mobile home, began touring the state and spreading information about the contributions of African Americans.
In the fall of 1978, the City of Detroit agreed to lease the Museum a plot of land between John R and Brush Streets to build a facility five times larger than its predecessor. In order to raise funds, Detroit Public School students participated in a “Buy a Brick” campaign, raising $80,000 for the new facility. Following the students’ initiative, a group of adults started the Million Dollar Club in which each member pledged at least $1,000. This major fundraiser earned $300,000. In 1985, the Afro-American Museum and the City of Detroit formed a partnership to build a new facility in the city’s University Cultural Center, securing the funding to complete the $3.5 million facility. The name of the International Afro-American Museum was changed to the Museum of African American History and ground was broken for a new facility on May 21, 1985. Two years later, on May 8, 1987, the doors of the Museum of African American History were reopened to the public at 301 Frederick Douglass. The new 28,000-square-foot structure accommodated a range of offerings. Featuring a series of exhibits, lectures, concerts, cultural celebrations, festivals and programs designed especially for children, it preserved the past and strengthened the future.
Once again the museum outgrew its facility and grander ideas for a new museum took shape. In 1992, Detroit voters authorized the City of Detroit to sell construction bonds to finance a larger building and ground was broken for the third generation of the Museum in August of 1993. On April 12, 1997, a 125,000 square-foot, state-of-the-art facility opened, making it the largest African American historical museum in the world. On March 30, 1998, the museum was renamed the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in honor of its founder. After a half century of service and with generous support from individuals, foundations, corporations, and government sources, The Wright Museum continues to be a cultural icon in the city of Detroit and throughout the world.