Baltimore’s Inclusive & Woke Museums

by Thomas Dorsey, Soul Of America

In my youth as a Baltimore school boy, there were no inclusive and woke museums. I remember visits to Baltimore Museum of Art and Walters Art Gallery. Teachers emphasized the importance of Greek and Roman sculptures and history and their important on Democracy and structure of American government. Many times they justifiably gloated over master artists from 15th to 20th century Europe. But seeing a Greek statue of David never quite did it for me. Hard as I looked, I could not find artists that looked like my family and friends in West Baltimore, East Baltimore or New York. There was nothing in their life experience or perspective that I could connect with. Today, Baltimore’s Enchanting Museums take things to another level.

When I visited as a youngster, there were no museums featuring old school black entertainers like Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Ethel Waters, Count Basie, Cab Calloway and the Nicholas Brothers. Nor could you find exhibits about then new school black entertainers like Michael Jackson, Prince, Earth, Wind & Fire, Kool & The Gang and more. And what about black visual artists. Seeing artwork by Romare Bearden or Allison Saar was out of the question.

In my visits as a man, I was convinced that years of social change had been kinder to put one foot ahead of another in my summer 2021 visits to Baltimore Museum of Art, American Visionary Art Museum and B&O Railroad Museum, would compliment my prior visits to Walters Art Museum, Star Spangled Banner Flag House, Maryland Center for History & Culture. Unfortunately, Baltimore Museum of Industry had not re-opened yet. Ditto for the Benjamin Banneker Museum and Murphy Arts Center.

I had visited National Great Blacks in Wax Museum and Reginald Lewis Museum of Maryland African American Culture & History twice before, but hadn’t been to Reginald Lewis Museum in 7 or 8 years. I’d heard that a different executive director had introduced new programming exhibits.

Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) would be my first. The BMA, at least from my point of view, would be a “tell” on diversity and inclusion progress since the Black Lives Matter movement exploded in 2020. To my surprise, the BMA had a large Black Lives Matter poster above the entrance. I next wondered what changed inside. My curiosity was quickly satiated when I saw By My Self exhibits by Tschabala Self, a suite of works that celebrate the beauty of black figures. There were many other pieces by black artists that informed me, this was no light-weight temporary trend at BMA. Of course it still had world-class Greek and Roman sculptures to admire. I can confidently state, this is not your uncle’s Baltimore Museum of Art. Enjoy without reservation.

My next stop was to visit Reginald Lewis Maryland Museum of African American History & Culture. I can definitively state that the Reginald Lewis Museum has upped its game for relevance about past and present lifestyles and concerns of the black community. If you haven’t been in a few years, this is a must visit.

An all-time favorite is the Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Museum in Fells Point District. Its inspirational to walk in the same place as the great abolitionist and orator Frederick Douglass and of Isaac Myers, the incredible black man who hired him in his ground-breaking ship repair business. For me it has special meaning because my late dad and I walked here when it was a dilapidated building nearly torn down. Give thanks for all those who made its restoration possible amidst a slew of modern Harbor East high-rises buildings.

As you see below, there so much more in the only city with 5 major black museums and “woke” general museums.

By My Self by Tschabala Self at Baltimore Museum of Art ; (c) Soul Of America

Baltimore Museum of Art
DESCRIPTION: Maryland’s largest art museum showcases a dazzling collection of ancient mosaics, European masters classics, contemporary art, and sculpture gardens adjacent to the Johns Hopkins University campus. The main building was designed in the 1920s by renowned architect John Russell Pope and an impressive wing for contemporary art was added in 1994. Its home to an impressive collection of artwork by Matisse, Picasso, Monet, Cezanne, Gauguin and van Gogh. Along with its extensive collection of 18th and 19th century American art, the museum has 16 galleries filled with one of the country’s best collections of 20th century Post-Impressionistic pieces and a permanent exhibit of African art. The museum has made dramatic progress showcasing artworks and themes important to the black community, including Black Lives Matter. It is wheelchair accessible and features an eclectic gift shop and scenic restaurant. We heartily recommend it.
ADMISSION: Free
DAYS & HOURS: Wed-Fri 11a-5p; Sat-Sun 11a-6p
ADDRESS: Art Museum Drive at North Charles Street and 31st Street, Baltimore, MD MAP
PARKING: Johns Hopkins University South Parking Garage
RAPID TRANSIT: none
PHONE: 410-396-7100
WEBSITE: https://artbma.org

Reginald Lewis Maryland Museum of African American History & Culture
DESCRIPTION: A Top-Tier Museum and Cultural Center; In 2005, this compelling black culture museum opened to great acclaim for its stylish architecture and close proximity to Baltimore Inner Harbor. It is made possible by the generous philanthropy of his widow Loida Lewis. Reginald Lewis (1942-1993), a Baltimore native, was the first African-American to build a billion-dollar company. The award-winning architectural team of Frelon Group/RTKL joint-ventured to create a building the evokes a complex range of emotions at every angle, day or night. As a Smithsonian Institution Affiliate, museum exhibitions give a high-quality presentation of Maryland African-American heritage of perseverance and triumph. Three galleries trace the African American communities in Maryland: Labor and the Black Experience Black Art and Intellect. Traveling exhibitions are often hosted for 3 to 5 months. The Black Lives Matter exhibit was particularly moving. This multi-level museum has space to host for special events and includes an attractive Museum Café. The well-stocked Museum Store almost dares your conscience to leave without a purchase. There are many great gifts, only limited by your imagination. If your itinerary includes the Baltimore Inner Harbor, this is a must-visit.
ADMISSION: modest fee
DAYS & HOURS: Mon-Sat 8:30a-5p
ADDRESS: 830 East Pratt Street, Baltimore, MD
PARKING: garage nearby
RAPID TRANSIT: Metro Shot Tower-Market Place Station
PHONE: 443-263-1800
WEBSITE: https://www.lewismuseum.org

Walters Art Museum
DESCRIPTION: Acclaimed as one of America’s greatest art museums with a collection spanning 55 centuries, 30,000 objects are housed in three wings. It presents art from pre-dynastic Egypt to Greek sculpture to Roman sarcophagi to Old European Master paintings and now 20th-century Europe, Art Deco jewelry and 19th-century masterpieces. The renovation & expansion dramatically presents many more objects. An extensive gift shop and café are on the premises of this treasure in Mount Vernon Arts District.
ADMISSION: Free; but fee-based guided group tours are available
DAYS & HOURS: Wed-Sun 10a—5p
ADDRESS: 600 North Charles Street, Baltimore, MD MAP
PARKING: Cathedral and Centre Streets
RAPID TRANSIT: Centre Street Light Rail Station
PHONE: 410-547-9000
WEBSITE: https://thewalters.org

National Great Blacks In Wax Museum
DESCRIPTION: Top-Tier Historical Wax Museum; Founded in 1983 and expanded in 1987 in an unused fire station, Victorian Mansion, and two former apartment dwellings to provide 30,000-square feet of space, it is the most remarkable museum of its genre. This museum contains over 100 wax figures and historic scenes, a full model slave ship exhibit telling the 400 year history of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, a room highlighting the contributions of outstanding Marylanders to African American history. The gift shop, and mini-auditorium for lectures, films and presentations round out the venue. All the lifelike displays are enhanced with special lighting, effects with particular attention to accuracy of skin color. Each display is presented chronologically from ancient Africa, the Middle Passage on a slave ship, slave revolts, the Antebellum and Postbellum periods, Reconstruction Era, Harlem Renaissance, the Civil Rights Movement to the present. Among the historic wax figures are The Queen of Sheba, Hannibal, George Washington Carver, Booker T. Washington, Colin Powell, Paul Robeson, Rosa Parks, Mary McCloud Bethune, Matthew Henson, Billie Holiday, Earl Graves, Howard Rollins and President Barack Obama. They have acquired the entire block for future expansion and parking.
ADMISSION: Modest fee
DAYS & HOURS: Tue-Sat 9a-6p
ADDRESS: 1601-03 East North Avenue, Baltimore, MD
PARKING: street only
PHONE: 410-563-3404
WEBSITE: http://greatblacksinwax.org

American Visionary Art Museum
DESCRIPTION: A hard to describe, critically acclaimed architectural jewel housed in a 35,000-square-foot main building that was formerly a paint factory; the museum contains six galleries filled with cutting edge art presented in novel ways. The adjoining barn, formerly a whiskey warehouse with 45-foot ceilings, makes for light spirits as you wander among it ample sculptural exhibits, which include We Are Not Alone: Angels and Other Aliens. It is best experienced, rather than categorized.
ADMISSION: Adults $11, Students $7
DAYS & HOURS: Tue-Sun 10a-6p
ADDRESS: 800 Key Highway, Baltimore, MD MAP
PARKING: on Covington Street and Key Highway
RAPID TRANSIT: bus
PHONE: 410-244-1900
WEBSITE: http://www.avam.org

Carl Murphy Fine Arts Center
DESCRIPTION: Medium-tier museum and performing arts center. MFAC opened in December 2001 with a rousing performance by world-renown operatic vocalist Jessye Norman.
ADMISSION: small fee
DAYS & HOURS: Tue-Fri 10a-4p, Sat 11a-4p, Sun 12a-4p
ADDRESS: 1700 East Cold Spring Lane, Baltimore, MD
PARKING: parking and garage on premises
RAPID TRANSIT: none
PHONE: 443-885-4440
WEBSITE: https://www.morgan.edu/mfac

Douglass bust at Frederick Douglass – Isaac Myers Maritime Museum; (c) Soul Of America

Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Museum
DESCRIPTION: Medium-tier historical & cultural museum that includes a maritime park. Founded in 2006 and situated in a prime spot connecting the Inner Harbor East to Fells Point, this 5,000-square feet black heritage site, museum and maritime park merges a modern structure of gallery space with the historic Sugar House. The complex is divided into permanent and temporary galleries and interactive learning centers. The Sugar House building was once owned by Isaac Myers, a free African-American who became a founder of the Chesapeake Marine Railway and Dry Dock Company. As CEO, he employed Frederick Douglass and helmed the largest black-owned business in the 1800s. A section of the museum is devoted to the saga of Frederick Douglass’ life in Baltimore as an enslaved child and young man working in the Eastern shore of Maryland and in the docks of Baltimore. Unfortunately, the white establishment at that time was jealous of the company’s success. So they twisted laws to separate Isaac Myers and his co-owners from the property. But as Dr. Martin Luther King once said, “Truth crushed to earth shall rise again.” Within the historic Sugar House, oldest standing industrial building on the Inner Harbor, lies the Alex Brown Maritime Education Center. A unique feature of the museum is its education programs teach ship building & repair skills to at-risk youths. Docent led tours are included in the admission.
ADMISSION: $15 and less
DAYS & HOURS: Tue-Sun 10a-5p
ADDRESS: 1417 Thames Street, Baltimore, MD
PARKING: Paid parking on Caroline Street in the PMI garage
PHONE: 410-685-0295
WEBSITE: http://www.douglassmyers.org

Star Spangled Banner Flag House
DESCRIPTION: Glimpse the small rooms of home life in the early 19th century at this museum dedicated to the story of Mary Young Pickersgill. See who made the 30×42 foot Star-Spangled Banner that flew over Fort McHenry during the War of 1812 and inspired Francis Scott Key to write the poem that became America’s National Anthem. Be surprised at how small the rooms are and people must have been. Her original flag now hangs at the Smithsonian Institution in DC, a replica is displayed in the garden. Located behind the Reginald Lewis Museum, this museum was founded in 1927.
ADMISSION: small fee
DAYS & HOURS: Tue-Sat 10a-4p, last tour begins 3:15p
ADDRESS: 844 East Pratt Street, Baltimore, MD MAP
PARKING: Central Parking Harbor Park
RAPID TRANSIT: Shot Tower-Market Place Metro Station
PHONE: 410-837-1793
WEBSITE: http://www.flaghouse.org

Maryland Historical Museum
DESCRIPTION: Founded in 1844 by the Maryland Historical Society, it’s first building was completed in 1847 near the Washington Monument. It contains Maryland historic artifacts and a research library. The 3-building complex includes the renovated Art Deco Greyhound Bus Garage as a gallery. It contains a mural exhibition of the Royal Theater, Pennsylvania Avenue and the former Afro-American Newspaper headquarters on Eutaw Street; contains nine portraits by Joshua Johnson, the first professional African American artist in the United States; a fashion archive of 12,000 garments and accessories spanning four centuries; the world’s largest collection of Baltimore Album quilts and Native American archaeological artifacts dating to 5,000 BC round out the permanent collection.
ADMISSION: Adults $4,
 Ages 13-17, 
Students and Seniors $6
DAYS & HOURS: Wed-Sun 10a-5p, library closed on Sunday
ADDRESS: 201 West Monument Street, Baltimore, MD MAP
PARKING: nearby garage and on street
RAPID TRANSIT: Centre Street Light Rail Station
PHONE: 410-685-3750
WEBSITE: https://www.mdhistory.org

Benjamin Banneker Museum & Historical Park
DESCRIPTION: Honors the legacy of a Free African American Intellectual who lived during the 1700s. Located on 142 acres in the Patapsco River Valley near Catonsville, the Park & Museum offers public and private programs focused on Banneker’s life, his work to finish the landscape design of Washington DC and his relationship to the land he inhabited. The verdant grounds with picnic tables are a great place to schedule a family reunions. Make your reservation.
ADMISSION: Small fee
DAYS & HOURS: Tue-Sat 10a-4p
ADDRESS: 300 Oella Avenue at Old Frederick Road, Oella, MD
PARKING: on premises
PHONE: 410-887-1081
WEBSITE: https://friendsofbenjaminbanneker.com

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