National African-American Archives and Multicultural Museum
National African-American Archives and Multicultural Museum The National African-American Archives and Multicultural Museum is an archive and African American history museum located in Mobile, Mobile County. The museum houses documents, records, photos, books, African artworks, furniture, and special collections related to the African American experience. It also interprets the lives of African American life and culture in Mobile, including slavery, Africatown, Mardi Gras, and sports. As of 2020, it has been temporarily closed while undergoing extensive renovations.
The National African-American Archives and Multicultural Museum is located in the former Davis Avenue Branch of the Mobile Public Library. It was built in 1930 to serve the African American community during segregation. The building was designed in a Neoclassical style by architect George Bigelow Rogers and constructed at a cost of $26,000. (Rogers also designed the Ben May Library, the library’s main branch, in 1928.) The Davis Avenue Branch is a smaller rectangular block with projecting end pavilions but lacks some of the décorative elements, such as pilasters, found on the Ben May Branch. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on December 22, 1983, for its architectural and historical significance.
Typical of most public organizations during disenfranchisement and segregation, the branch remained underfunded by both the city and the state. Undeterred, the local African American community raised funds and collected books for the library. In 1961, an addition to the rear increased the facility’s space. Later in that decade, the library came to be used as a depository for government documents following desegregation.
In 1992, Delores S. Dees reopened the library as the National African-American Archives and Museum and served as the first president and executive director. Permanent displays have included the “Slavery” exhibit, which displayed objects of punishment and brutality, including shackles, leg irons, collars, and badges used to denote a person’s enslaved status in southern cities. The “History of Colored Carnival” exhibit has interpreted the many African American contributions to Carnival and Mardi Gras in Mobile and in New Orleans, Louisiana.
The museum has also houses artifacts related to contributions made by African Americans to the greater Mobile culture and economy, including items related to their involvement as defense workers in the shipyards during World War II. The museum has also chronicled the voyage of the Clotilda, an illegal slave ship that docked in Mobile in 1860 and was the last known ship to bring enslaved peoples into the United States. The enslaved people on the Clotilda, around 30 mostly ethnic Yoruba and Fon people from West Africa, formed Africatown, a community located north of downtown Mobile, after emancipation. (In 2019, the ruins of the Clotilda were discovered in Mobile Bay through an effort led by the Alabama Historical Commission, which owns all sunken ships in state waters, the National Geographic Society, and other organizations.) There have also been exhibits dedicated to local sports and military figures, including Hank Aaron, the star baseball player born in Mobile, Maj. Gen. Jerome G. Cooper, the first African American to command a U.S. Marine Corps infantry company, and former U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman, a native of Mobile.
The National African-American Archives and Museum is located at 564 Dr. Martin L. King Jr. Drive. Nearby are the Hank Aaron Childhood Home and Museum, the Bragg-Mitchell Mansion, the William and Emily Hearin Mobile Carnival Museum, the History Museum of Mobile, Fort Condé, the Condé-Charlotte House and Museum, the Richards DAR House Museum, and the University of South Alabama Archaeology Museum.