Built in 1909, the Colman School originally served a primarily Italian American community. World War II saw more African Americans moving into the area. By 1959 approximately 60% of the student body was Black. The school suffered during the I-5 construction project, which led to it closing in 1985. The following couple of decades saw a period of occupation, petitioning, and project planning in an effort to turn this old building into the site of a city museum for the African American community. Finally, in 2008 the NAAM opened its doors to the public.The Northwest African American Museum is housed on the ground floor of the old Colman School building. The school house also holds 36 apartments for moderate income families. The transformation of this iconic building into a multi-purpose facility serves three important functions for the community. First, the school building is preserved as an historical site. Second, housing is provided for working families of the surrounding neighborhoods. And finally, the community has a common space to explore the role of African Americans in the Northwest.
Wednesday 11 am - 4:30 pm
Thursday 11 am - 7 pm
Friday 11 am - 4:30 pm
Saturday 11 am - 4 pm
Sunday 12 pm - 4 pm
Admission $6 Adult $4 Student/Senior. Free for children 5 and under. Free admission first and second Thursday of every month.
Because this is not a purpose built space, the museum goer faces some challenges to navigating the exhibits. The main exhibition space occupies the central hallway. While conducive to a timeline (which takes up one wall) it leaves much to be desired in the way of object cases. What few objects are on display are of high quality, but I would have liked to see more. The main gallery is text panel oriented and they have clearly been designed with great care. Plenty of photographs and interesting facts keep these panels from being overladen with heavy blocks of text.
Where this museum leaves a little to be desired with its permanent exhibit, it excels in its temporary gallery. Currently they are showing a series of photographs and book excerpts from James Baldwin, a 1960s civil rights activist and openly gay black man. It spans a period of his work during which he lived in Istanbul, Turkey. I found the photographs of his social life in Turkey to be particularly profound. If I hadn't known any better I'd have thought they were taken last year, not fifty years ago.
In addition to the museum, the ground floor also has a library and Genealogy Research Center. Volunteers are on staff periodically throughout the week to assist visitors in their genealogical research. Access to Ancestry.com is also made available.
Overall I found this museum to be interesting but I left wanting more. Luckily for me, this museum has plenty of time to grow and develop its collection. I look forward to future temporary exhibits at NAAM and remain optimistic about the fate of this facility in the coming years.