Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History

Dr. Charles Howard Wright, a successful Detroit physician and civil rights activist, founded Detroit’s first International Afro-American Museum in 1965. Inspired by a memorial for Danish World War II heroes, Dr. Wright decided that African Americans needed a place to document, preserve, become educated about, and take pride in their culture and history. 

The International Afro-American Museum, also known by the acronym IAM, opened on West Grand Boulevard in 1966. In the same year, the IAM traveling museum toured Michigan in a converted mobile home to educate the public about the history and contributions of African Americans. The museum featured galleries of African art and instruments, a collection of inventions by African Americans, and an exhibition on Civil Rights activists. 

By 1978, the Afro-American Museum had outgrown this space. They partnered with the City of Detroit to build a new museum in Detroit’s Cultural Center. Fundraisers were held throughout the city to fund the building’s construction. The most significant fundraising contributions came from Detroit Public School students, who held a “Buy a Brick” campaign, and the Million Dollar Club, which raised $300,000 thanks to large donations from each of the group’s members. Upon the museum’s reopening in 1985, it was renamed the Museum of African American History. It hosted many exhibits, lectures, concerts, and other programs and cultural events, most of which were intended to educate children about the past and improve the future. Notable exhibits from this time (1977-1985) included “Black Migration to Detroit: 1910-1950,” “Black Women: Achievements Against the Odds,” and “200 Years of Black Art: A Symposium.” 

The museum found its final home in 1997 when it moved to an even larger space in Detroit’s Cultural Center on Warren Avenue. The building, by firm Sims-Varner and Associates, was designed to incorporate inspiration from African art and architecture. It was then renamed in honor of its founder, as the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. The museum is over 120,000 feet and is noted as the largest African American historical museum in the world. 



Booklet for Charles H. Wright Memorial Service, 2002 – 2014.002.361

Card from Rosa Parks' memorial service at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History

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