Editor's Expedition - Northwest African American Museum

  • Written by Kristen Hamilton

One of the great joys of moving to a new place is to have  the  opportunity  to  learn. There is great adventure in having opportunities to learn about the traditions and culture, the food, music and simply in trying to find out what makes our new locale tick. This has been the mission that my husband and I have set for ourselves as we continue to explore the endless diversity that is Seattle and the surrounding region.

IMG 1825Photos by Bob HamiltonWe have found that one of the great ways to get to know a place is to become acquainted with its’ history and the stories of the people who made it.  With this in mind, we ventured to the Northwest African American Museum (NAAM). It is housed in the historic Colman School building in the Central District of Seattle. The museum is not particularly large, but it is an interesting and delightful place. Its’ mission is “to spread knowledge, understanding and enjoyment of the histories, arts and cultures of people of African descent for the enrichment of all”. The museum fulfills this mission by presenting and preserving, through its’ exhibits and programs, the surprisingly deep connections that exist between African Americans and other peoples of the Pacific Northwest.

On the day that we visited, the museum was very busy and active and in the midst of Martin Luther King Day celebrations and programs. We took a few minutes to watch a video presentation of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech given from the Lincoln Memorial In August 1963.  Its’ words speak louder than ever. I enjoyed also learning about Dr. King’s visit to the Central district in 1961.  We later strolled through the Northwest Gallery and viewed a contemporary photography  exhibit entitled “Everyday Black” which presents snapshots that very beautifully depict “the everyday lives of everyday African Americans here in Seattle”.

To conclude our afternoon, we visited the museum’s permanent exhibition space---The Journey Gallery.  IMG 1832Through photographs, artifacts and interactive exhibits, the many journeys that people of African  descent undertook to reach the Pacific Northwest are shared. Their stories are very compelling, and we were challenged by what we learned.  As we made our way toward the exit, My husband Bob gave a tip of his cap to the legendary guitarist and Seattle native Jimi Hendrix whose own stylish hat, worn in a 1968 performance, is proudly displayed.

The museum also features a genealogy center to explore family histories, a youth curator program, cultural workshops as well as various health and wellness programs.  The Jean Shy Farris Reading Room is filled with literature, non-fiction and reference texts. The Northwest African American Museum is located at 2300 S. Massachusetts Street in Seattle. Please visit their website at for more information.

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