African-American Museum and Library at Oakland
Oakland, CA (Free)
August 2, 2014
Last summer I spent some time with my sister who lives in the bay area, so I convinced her to join me on my excursion to the African-American Museum and Library at Oakland. When we arrived at the museum around 3:30 in the afternoon and signed in, we were clearly the only visitors to the museum that Saturday, which saddened me. There was a competing event a few blocks away, the Oakland Art and Soul Festival, which drew thousands to the neighborhood but, unfortunately, none to the museum. Even my sister and I were tempted by the music and throngs of people flocking to the festival, but we stayed on track and went to the museum.
The museum and library’s historic building was built in 1902 as one of Oakland’s first libraries. It has since remained part of Oakland’s public library system. In 1989 the building was badly damaged in an earthquake but was eventually restored and reopened in its current form in 2002. Inside the building the reference library is on the first floor and the exhibits are on the second floor at the top of a beautiful staircase. Around the perimeter of the main museum room is a permanent exhibit chronicling the history of the African American community in the bay area. That exhibit includes panels and photographs along with video interviews of a diverse array of current Oakland residents. The most striking element of this exhibit are the enormous beautiful photo prints of early 20th century images of African Americans in Oakland on white fabric hanging from the ceiling.
The temporary exhibit on display when we visited was “The Mood, The Music, The Passion in Art” featuring brightly colored, jazz themed paintings from the artist, Charles Blackwell. Once we finished perusing Blackwell’s paintings and learning about Oakland’s Black history, we returned to the first floor where we scanned the library shelves. My sister, herself an artist, discovered some Black art books, and we spent the last of the library’s open minutes exploring the history of African-American art. We were ultimately notified on the library’s loudspeaker that the library was closing. We were the only patrons in the building, so the librarian called us out, expressing his hope that “the two ladies” enjoyed their visit.
Check back next Monday, March 9, for a look at The Anacostia Community Museum in Washington DC.