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Reconstruction Period Research Forum

Civil Rights Museum opens in Minneapolis

African American Historical and Civil Rights Museum opens in Minneapolis
By: Isaac Peterson, III

Originally posted 5/4/2005

It took 20 years, but Leola Seals has finally realized her dream: an African American and civil rights museum in Minneapolis.

Seals’ museum, located at 2404 Plymouth Avenue North, had its official opening on April 30.

“I need to bring all of my people together because the people are so scattered and don’t know who they are,” said Seals. “They don’t know where they came from.”

Seals hopes that the museum will allow her to fill in those gaps in the knowledge of not just African Americans, but everyone.

She explained that: “It’s educational for everybody. It’s not just Black history, it’s everybody’s history...

“It’s just lost and lost and lost generations. And our history is really lost. The only history that the children are telling me they’re learning in school is about MLK and Rosa Parks. There’s much more to African American history than MLK and Rosa Parks.”

Teaching young people is one major goal of the museum, Seals told us. But, she also said, “A lady I was talking to, she’s 80 years old, said, ‘You need to teach it to the grown folks, too.’”

Seals, a former president of the Minneapolis NAACP, said she bought the rights to the name of her museum in 1996, but was detained from opening the museum by seeing the last of her children through college and heading the NAACP.

“Now, I feel that it’s time for me to do what I really and truly want to do,” Seals said. “This is the [culmination] of everything I’ve been doing for the last 20 years.”

The museum opening was very well-attended. As a jazz combo played on the sidewalk out front, a steady stream of people, Black and White, made their way through the museum and its exhibits. Opening day attendees included Minneapolis City Council members Natalie Johnson Lee and Don Samuels and Hennepin County Judge LaJune Lange. Several people from as far away as Duluth were also present.

The most visible and most controversial exhibit is the enlarged photo of the lynching of three Black men in Duluth in 1920. The photo had last attracted attention when Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat objected to its presence in a Black History Month exhibit at the Hennepin County Government Center (See MSR February 13, 2003, “Lynching photo recall sparks controversy.”)

Other exhibits include:

• Jim Crow-era signs such as “Colored/white restrooms,” “Colored entrance only,” and “No dogs, no Negroes, No Mexicans [allowed]”

• Black-oriented advertisements for cane sugar syrup, yams, and other products

• African American-oriented literature and books, paintings, photos, poetry and art

• A sign for a slave auction held March 1, 1849

There are also reproductions of historic documents: The Emancipation Proclamation, the Gettysburg Address, the 13th Amendment, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms,” Brown vs. Board of Education, Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

One attraction proved to be popular with the children who attended the museum opening: making Black dolls.

Seals pointed to a Black doll she had obtained. “Out in Hopkins, I believe, I found that little Black doll you see down there,” she said. “It was a White doll that they painted black. I brought it to show to people.

“Our people never, ever found Black dolls for their children. That’s part of our history.”


18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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