January 16, 2023 / Modified jan 16, 2023 2:15 p.m.

African American Museum of Southern Arizona opens

The museum officially opened on Saturday, Jan. 14 and is located at the University of Arizona.

Ribbon cutting African American Museum 9-year-old Jody cuts the ribbon of the new African American Museum of Southern Arizona on Saturday, Jan. 14, 2023. Jody sparked the idea of creating the museum when he found out there was not a spot in Tucson that shares Black history.
Paola Rodriguez/Arizona Public Media

What started as an idea from a class assignment turned into Tucson’s newest African American Museum of Southern Arizona. At the University of Arizona on Saturday, founders Bob and Beverely Elliott unveiled the new museum–an idea that stemmed from their 9-year-old grandson Jody.

In 2021, Jody needed to write a report on an African American hero of his choice in recognition of Black History Month.

“The school instilled the idea of putting Black history in and then my son asked the question as ‘well, where can I go find my own history,” Kimberlee Avant, Jody’s mother, and museum board member, said.

Crowd of people outside of the African American Museum of Southern Arizona A crowd of people stand outside of the new African American Museum of Southern Arizona on Saturday, Jan. 14, 2023. The museum is about 1,100 square feet.
Paola Rodriguez/Arizona Public Media

After speaking with his grandparents and finding out there wasn’t a spot in Tucson, that’s when he said they should make one. Two years later, Avant says that it feels surreal for him.

“He was like you mean my idea really is coming into fruition and I’m like yeah, honey, we’re gonna go cut that ribbon tomorrow,” Avant said.

But now, others will not have to look far to find a place that celebrates, embraces, and encourages Black history.

Artistic drawing of the buffalo soldiers An attendee stands in front of artwork depicting the Arizona Buffalo Soldiers at the African American Museum of Southern Arizona on Saturday, Jan. 14 2023. The African American servicemen in the painting were allowed to join the U.S. Army in 1866.
Paola Rodriguez/Arizona Public Media

“When my son grows up, he can pass that along to his children and say that there is somewhere you came from, somewhere you belong, and somewhere you feel included.”

The museum showcases different African American contributions and historical events within Southern Arizona. From coded quilts enslaved people used to find safe houses along the Underground Railroad to Arizona’s Buffalo Soldiers, the African American servicemen who joined the U.S. Army in 1866, the museum’s mission is to be a movement, not a moment.

People looking at exhibits Attendees look at a quilt hanging on the wall at the African American Museum of Southern Arizona on Saturday, Jan. 14, 2023.
Paola Rodriguez/Arizona Public Media

Avant says that the museum is also displaying family heirlooms. She hopes that this is just the start and encourages others to come forward to share their stories.

“Some people have kept their traditions that we've learned for 40 years in a closet,” Avant said. “So for them to turn it over to us to say, ‘I trust you, that you will take care of my family heirloom products…’ It's been an honor really to have people share their stories and willing to give up their personal collections for a greater cause.”

Attendee Aja Haymore, a UA alum and staff member, was most excited to scan QR codes that would show the digital version of objects on her smartphone for a 360-degree view. Haymore says that seeing the museum is endearing.

A woman teaching her granddaughter at the African American Museum of Southern Arizona A woman is showing her granddaughter an exhibit on display at the African American Museum of Southern Arizona on Saturday, Jan. 14 2023. The museum features three large TVs that display video footage and recordings of oral histories by Black Southern Arizonans.
Paola Rodriguez/Arizona Public Media

“A lot of the times it is the black community, and it is parents, who we rely on to introduce us to Black culture,” Haymore said. “They're the ones who really ingrain that we are present, our culture is rich, and it is here. There just aren't a lot of spaces that represent that… an experience that has happened to so many individuals in the community has resulted in something so impactful.”

For those interested in visiting the new museum, make an appointment by emailing aamuseumofsouthernaz@gmail.com. Regular hours will be established at a later date.

Entrance of the African American Museum of Southern Arizona Attendees slowly make their way into the African American Museum of Southern Arizona on Saturday, Jan. 16 2023. It is the grand opening of the museum.
Paola Rodriguez/Arizona Public Media

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