The Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia
Celebrating the heroism of African America
Welcome to the gateway to the rich history, heritage and accomplishments of African Americans in Virginia. The Black History Museum’s collection includes art, artifacts, textiles, photographs, rare books, music and other items. The Museum also hosts traveling exhibitions, literary talks, and special events throughout the year. Located in the historic Jackson Ward neighborhood, the museum is housed in The Leigh Street Armory.
Our mission is to preserve stories that inspire. For many of us Black history is reduced to a handful of moments and events. We remember the courageous and popular stories of Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, and Martin Luther King, but there are many, many more. Although Virginia’s past is sometimes painful, we can learn from our ancestors and allow that history to fuel our future.
The Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia was founded in 1981 by Carroll Anderson, Sr. In 1991, the Museum was opened in the historic Jackson Ward district of Richmond.
The house, built in 1832 by German descendant Adolph Dill, incorporates both the Federal and Greek Revival architectural styles. Under the leadership of Maggie L. Walker, the country’s first female and Black bank president, the Council of Colored Women purchased the house in 1922. In 1932, it became the Black branch of the Richmond Public Library and was named in honor of Rosa D. Bowser, the first Black female school teacher in Richmond.
In the spring of 2016, the Museum adopted a new location—the Leigh Street Armory. The Leigh Street Armory was built by skilled black craftsmen and laborers in 1894-95, providing Virginia’s black soldiers with an armory to call their own. In 1899, just four years after the armory opened, the city converted the armory into a school for African American children. Closed after decades of service as a Richmond school, the armory was reopened once again to serve black servicemen during World War II. In 1942, the building became the Monroe Center, a recreation center for black troops. In 1945, it became an annex and a gym for local schools, then home to the Colored Special School from 1952-54.
Prior to becoming the new home of the Museum, the Leigh Street Armory had endured a fire and decades of neglect and abandonment. In 1981, the city declared the armory as surplus property. As a result, the building remained padlocked until 2002. However, a grant from Save America’s Treasures, a national historical site preservation program, agreed to fund the armory’s rehabilitation. The structure had some of its exterior brickwork redone, new floors and a roof installed and was soon up-and-running once again.