Historic Detroit

Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History

The 125,000-square-foot Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History opened in 1997 in Detroit’s Midtown neighborhood, the city’s Cultural Center. It bills itself as “the world’s largest institution dedicated to the African American experience.” The building is home to more than 30,000 artifacts and archival materials, including a number of documents from Detroit’s labor movement.

Dr. Charles Wright was an obstetrician and gynecologist and was the visionary behind a museum of black history in Detroit. After visiting a memorial to World War II service members in Denmark, he decided to honor the African-American experience by preserving their history, life and culture. In 1965, Dr. Wright and 30 others founded the International Afro-American Museum on West Grand Boulevard in Detroit. Its collection included relics such as masks from Africa and inventions of legendary African-American inventor Elijah McCoy. It wasn’t long before the museum had outgrown the small building on the Boulevard, and work for bigger confines began.

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 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, 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. In April of 1997, a 125,000 square-foot, state-of-the-art facility opened, making it the largest African American historical museum in the world.

One year later, the museum was renamed the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in honor of its founder.”

In 2005, civil rights icon Rosa Parks lied in repose in the Wright Museum’s rotunda. The museum said 700,000 paid their respects from 9 p.m. Oct. 31 to 5 a.m. Nov. 2.