To explore, Expand, Preserve, and Educate those who are interested in our History, Culture and Contributions to our Society, Through Photographs, Artifacts, and Likeness.
Historical preservation of these incidents is not only important, but necessary, and often the action of record keeping itself can be a form of remembrance and redress for a community. The Texas African American Museum, located in Tyler, Texas, was created with this idea in mind.
In 2017, the Texas African American Museum was founded by Clarence Shackelford. Shackelford felt compelled by a desire to not only preserve African American history but to provide a place for outreach, where African American history would be celebrated more often than just February each year, acknowledging that he had not previously seen any cultural memorabilia to remind him of his ancestors, and was inspired to do so. As a branch of the Empowerment Community Development Corporation, a Tyler-based non-profit devoted to education, preservation, and supporting minority-owned small businesses of which he was a board member, the museum began operation. The Texas African American Museum began work on developing and collecting exhibits with Gloria Washington serving as curator and executive director.
The parent group of the Texas African American Museum, the Empowerment Community Development Corporation was not much older when it helped establish the new venture. Founded in 2015, the Empowerment Community Development Corporation quickly began to work at benefitting the community with local Tyler Pastor Stanley Cofer as President. As part of his professed mission, Cofer spent much of his time as a decades-long Tyler resident working on various improvement projects and community outreach events, often taking on leadership roles. As President of the Empowerment Community Development Corporation, Cofer has played a large role in the continued development of Tyler, and looked to the museum as a continuation of that.
With approval and support from Cofer, Washington and Shackelford started the Texas African American Museum. In the beginning, it was mostly a virtual endeavor, with African American histories and news events posted to a Facebook page and webpage. Eventually, however, and Shackleford, and Washington had set up a single-room display inside of the Unique Shopping Mall off of West Erwin Street in Tyler. Surrounded by antiques and other goods, the small one-room display housed hundreds of donated photographs, African art displays, and artifacts from local Tyler history that included a poll tax receipt from Smith County. The display operated on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, from eleven-thirty in the morning until five-thirty, with free admission. Despite the small space, Cofer, Shackleford and Washington turned the African American Museum into a larger presence in the community. In 2018, the Texas African American Museum relocated to a larger space on North Border Avenue. Washington took advantage of the larger space by implementing outreach opportunities that included school tours, hosting events, and gathering more local exhibits for display. With a larger and more permanent shelter, the museum began to flourish in the community.
On November 11, 2020, the City of Tyler donated the former fire station number 4 on West Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to the Empowerment Community Development Corporation for the purpose of housing the Texas African American Museum. Cofer, Washington, and many others immediately remarked that there were big plans in store for the Museum. Tyler Mayor Don Warren commented on his hopes for the future of the museum and its potential. Throughout a short history, the Texas African American Museum is growing into a prominent feature of Tyler, Texas. The Museum open to the public in January of 2021, for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, with exhibits that included works photographs of President Abraham Lincoln with the Emancipation Proclamation, and works by Barack and Michelle Obama, the former United States President and First Lady, and first of African-American heritage. Already serving as a bastion for local, state, and national African American history, those involved with the project had visions of incorporating international perspectives as well. From humble beginnings and a virtual presence to a larger role in the Tyler community and a permanent home, the Texas African American Museum and the individuals who established it and maintain it are still working to preserve important historical stories for future generations.