From Slavery To Freedom
During my visit on an overcast November morning, the first exhibits I encounter are Horror of Captivity and The Slave Ship, both harrowing illustrations of the transatlantic slave trade.
- Directional signage on the slave ship. | Photo: Alexandra Charitan
- Children in chains in the replica slave ship. | Photo: Alexandra Charitan
- The Slave Ship highlights the horrors of the transatlantic slave trade. | Photo: Alexandra Charitan
My enslaved ancestors were stolen from their homeland, separated from their families, stripped of their language and cultural identity, tortured, and beaten into submission by their evil captors. As I descend the stairs into the replica slave ship, Im greeted by forlorn figures of men, women, and children chained together and stacked in cramped quarters alongside vermin and corpses. Im saddened and angered, but I also feel a sense of pride. A less resilient people might not have survived the Middle Passage at an interactive station I pour a libation in honor of the countless brave souls who came before me.
At every turn, I witness how African Americans have flourished in the face of insurmountable odds. Stoic wax figures showcasing Black excellence include prominent civil rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, groundbreaking Marylanders Douglass and Harriet Tubman, North Pole explorer Matthew Henson, and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.
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Bhm: Celebrating Baltimores National Great Blacks In Wax Museum
Most museums with a national profile are created and built by cities, states or institutions that work with curators and major funding.
There are also, however, a select few museums of renown that are built up from a grassroots level by community members determined to inform and educate future generations about history and culture from an authentic and engaging perspective.
Sociologist Dr. Elmer Martin and his wife, Dr. Joanna Martin, were most definitely among those select few.
The Martins wanted to teach Black history in a way that would grab the attention of school children so they did it with wax.
The Martins had wax heads made in the likenesses of Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Mary McLeod Bethune and Nat Turner, then used department store mannequins for the bodies.
They originally presented the figures at schools and community centers in Baltimore, Maryland, but after garnering donations and grants, the figures were permanently installed at the Great Blacks in Wax Museum in 1983.
Just over two decades later, in 2004, the Great Blacks in Wax Museum was recognized by the United States Congress and was designated The National Great Blacks in Wax Museum.
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Baltimores National Great Blacks In Wax Museum Teaches Visitors That Knowledge Is Power
The museum finds a unique way to chronicle African American history and celebrate notable figuresfrom the slave ship to the White House
A wooden bench located across the street from the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum is painted in bold white letters proclaiming that Baltimore is The Greatest City in America. Twenty-five years ago, I moved from Baltimorea working class city steeped in Black historyto New York City. But during the COVID-19 pandemic, a family emergency beckoned me home for an extended stay.
Despite being a hard town by the sea, as Nina Simone sings in Baltimore, the benchs positive message is how I hope visitors view my hometown. That optimistic spirit is very much alive at the 17,500-square-foot wax museum, which spans several refashioned row homes along East North Avenue in East Baltimore.
My first trip to the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum was at the beginning of my career as a reporter for The Baltimore Afro-American newspaper. It was a unique educational experience, but during my second visitas 2020 comes to an endI see the exhibitions through more mature and woefully woke eyes.
The First Black History Wax Museum
Similar museums exist, but the National Great Blacks in Wax Museumwith 150 figures currently on displayis hailed as the first and most comprehensive.
We have learned so much over the years about how to craft an exceptionally made wax figure, says Martin. I now guide the process and pride myself on how proficient I have become in seeing details the novice would miss. She designed the newer images of a seated Frederick Douglass, with his impressive mane of hair, and gospel great Mahalia Jackson, captured mid-song with eyes raised to the heavens and her hands clasped.
- Frederick Douglass is one of the museums newest additions. | Photo: Alexandra Charitan
- Gospel singer Mahalia Jackson. | Photo: Alexandra Charitan
- Literary greats Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, and James Baldwin. | Photo: Alexandra Charitan
- Sports stars Joe Louis, Jackie Robinson, and Jesse Owens. | Photo: Alexandra Charitan
Prior to opening the museum in 1983, the Martins had a traveling exhibition of four wax figures they displayed in shopping malls, schools, and churches: their first statue of Douglass, educator Mary McLeod Bethune, white abolitionist John Brown, and slave revolt leader Nat Turner. The original wax figures cost $4,500 eachtoday they can be as much as $25,000.
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The Great Blacks In Wax Museum Inc
| The Great Blacks In Wax Museum, Inc. The Great Blacks in Wax Museum is among the United States most dynamic cultural and educational institutions. Because it is a wax museum committed solely to the study and preservation of African American history, it is also among the most unique. Primarily, the presentation of life-size, life-like wax figures highlighting historical and contemporary personalities of African ancestry defines its uniqueness.
Each wax figure, clad in appropriate historical attire, is part of a scenic display depicting the struggles, achievements and contributions of African peoples worldwide. Each display is presented chronologically, highlighting ancient Africa, the Middle Passage, the Antebellum and Postbellum periods, Reconstruction, the Harlem Renaissance, and Civil Rights era, and the present.
The personalities from each period are those whose lives exemplify the African American traditions of help, uplift, and protest. They are those of humble beginnings who have risen through great sacrifice and against tremendous odds to achieve distinguished recognition or make outstanding contributions to American and world civilization. They are also whose who pioneered or excelled in particular fields of endeavor. But above all, they are those whose talents and genius reflect the talent and genius of the African-American masses.
Panama City Honors Black History Month In Unique Way
PANAMA CITY, Fla. – Black History Month can be celebrated in many ways, including building wax figures from scratch.
The National Great Blacks in Wax Museum Traveling Exhibit is in Panama City City Hall on Thursday, February 17th through Saturday, February 19th.
The eyes are made out of glass so they look more realistic and theyre called medical prosthetic eyes, said Dr. Joanne Martin, co-founder and president of The National Great Blacks in Wax Museum in Baltimore, Maryland.
Thats just the beginning.
The skin tone and getting that right is essential, as is hair color, Martin said.
She said getting any detail wrong is an injustice to the individual who changed history.
For me, thats necessary because Im preserving someones legacy and I need to be respectful of that, Martin said.
The museum opened its doors in 1983 but started out as a traveling exhibit in 1980.
We would take our figures and put them in the back of my Pontiac, Martin said.
Shes selective in how she chooses figures. This years wax figures include Blacks whove made strides in the political realm.
They include womens rights activist Dorothy Height, American educator and Civil Rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune, politician Julian Bond, former Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court Thurgood Marshall, and current U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume.
Regardless of whos presented each year, teaching the youth about the role black figures played throughout history is important.
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Great Blacks In Wax Museum
This is the first wax museum of the nation and the only of this kind. As the name suggests the museum is dedicated to the figures of famous African Americans or the Blacks and their life and times. There are hundreds of exhibits that not only include models and figures but also scenes and events especially of the slavery times.
The museum was started in place of a firehouse by a doctor couple named Dr. Elma Martin and Dr. Joanna Martin who found it difficult to fund the museum at first. They started placing temporary exhibits and putting up displays in schools and other organizations. All the more the exhibits were praised, the more they became popular. Later on they were offered loans, grants and endowments to start permanent exhibits. The museum till today runs like that and forms a very important tourist attraction.
National Great Blacks In Wax Museum Gets Ready For Summer Tourism Season
- Sierra Austin
National Great Blacks in Wax Museum in East Baltimore. Visit Baltimore photo
In this photo from Feb. 25, a historic landmark of Baltimore, Americas First Black History Wax Museum is painted on the wall of The National Great Blacks in Wax Museum.
Morgan State University photo/Sierra Austin
Now that Baltimore City has lifted more of its pandemic restrictions, tourists destinations are working on plans to safely welcome more visitors back this summer. The National Great Blacks in Wax Museum is among those destinations making moves to get back on the road to recovery.
According to Visit Baltimore, the nonprofit organization designed to market Baltimore as a tourist location, Baltimore has lost $7 million and counting in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The National Great Blacks in Wax Museum said 2020 saw a financial loss of more than $200,000.
Joanne Martin, owner and co-founder of the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum, admitted that when the museum shut down in March 2020 due to COVID-19 she was not sure what to expect and feared that a mounting deficit would be, a clear indication of COVID-19s impact on our financial stability.
The museum reopened Aug. 28, 2020, with an Emmett Till exhibit on the 65th anniversary of his murder. Upon reopening Martin said the museum was busier than expected and a number of tourists mentioned they were disappointed by the museums closing in March.
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Needs Help And Renovations
I have been to the Great Blacks in Wax Museum several times and just want to say what a treasure it is! However, It needs to be renovated, new exhibits, and updates. This museum is not supported by Baltimore or the state of Maryland. We need this place and need to start a Gofundme or fundraiser to preserve this treasure!
Was a an not in the best area but very nice experience and lesson in history. $15 cover charge but look at it as a donation to keep the place open.
Had the pleasure of going on a discounted day and given the honor of meeting Co-founder Dr. Morgan. This place is a critical piece of African/African American history. It’s an enlightening timepiece that spans “5,000 years through history”. There are wax statues dating back to ancient Ethiopia and Egypt along with sections depicting the horrific experience of the trans Atlantic slave trade through the American experience. While choices of wax statue figures can be debated, there’s no doubt that this place has done an incredible job. For my children, it was great to see the varied culture experience in America that depicted positive and difficult truths. I would recommend this place a must do for any tourist or visitor.
I wouldn’t trade this experience for the world. This is my 5th visit to the museum and it’s different each time I go in!!
Our History Didnt Have Faces
Founded by husband and wife educators Dr. Elmer P. Martin and Dr. Joanne Martin, the museum uses incredibly detailed, life-size wax figures and artifacts that share the African American experience from ancient Africa and slavery to the present.
Up until his untimely death in 2001, Elmer Martin was a professor of social work at the historically Black Morgan State University. The museum was inspired in part by the disillusionment he felt by his students rejecting their roots.
My husband especially was very much a product of the Black Power and Black consciousness era, explains Joanne Martin. He came to the conclusion that we failed to build institutions designed solely for the purpose of preserving our history and our culture. every generation was going to have to start from scratch.
After a trip to Potters Wax Museum in St. Augustine, Florida, the couple saw an opportunity to preserve and showcase Black culture in an innovative way.
I was just fascinated by the whole notion of a wax museum and the possibility of telling the story that way, Martin says. For me, our history didnt have faces.
The Mansion At The National Great Blacks In Wax Museum
At the corner of Broadway and North Avenue/Ray Lewis Way sits The Mansion in the Oliver community of East Baltimore. Everybody here knows Ray Lewis . The Mansion is a place that famed literary genius Edgar Allan Poe would have loved to have used in one of his stories. That is because before it was “The Mansion” it was the Sander and Son Funeral Home, and before that it was the Bauernschmidt Mansion. It was built by George Frederick, a well-known architect of Maryland whose works included Baltimore’s City Hall. These days The Mansion presents programs and workshops for the youth, and each summer the Voices of History Street Fair opens at the entrance of the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum and ends its opening procession at the steps of The Mansion. Upstairs on the third floor is the Mama Linda Goss Folk Art Cultural Center. Come up and see it some time!
National Great Blacks In Wax Museum Review
Founded in 1983 and expanded in 1987 in an unused fire station, Victorian Mansion, and two former apartment dwellings to provide 30,000-square feet of space, it is the most remarkable museum of its genre. This museum contains over 100 wax figures and scenes, a full model slave ship exhibit telling the 400 year history of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, a room highlighting the contributions of outstanding Marylanders to African American history, a gift shop, and a mini auditorium for lectures, films, and presentations. All the lifelike displays are enhanced with special lighting, effects with particular attention to accuracy of skin color. Each display is presented chronologically from ancient Africa, the Middle Passage on a slave ship, slave revolts, the Antebellum and Postbellum periods, Reconstruction Era, Harlem Renaissance, the Civil Rights Movement to the present. Among the historic wax figures are The Queen of Sheba, Hannibal, George Washington Carver, Booker T. Washington, Colin Powell, Paul Robeson, Rosa Parks, Mary McCloud Bethune, Matthew Henson, Billie Holiday, Earl Graves, Howard Rollins and President Barack Obama. They have acquired the entire block for future expansion and parking.
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National Great Blacks In Wax Museum
|This article includes a list of general references, but it lacks sufficient corresponding inline citations. Please help to improve this article by introducing more precise citations.|
The National Great Blacks in Wax Museum is a wax museum in Baltimore, featuring prominent African-American and other black historical figures. It was established in 1983, in a downtown storefront on Saratoga Street.
The museum is currently located on 1601 East North Avenue in a renovated firehouse, a Victorian Mansion, and two former apartment dwellings that provide nearly 30,000 square feet of exhibit and office space. The exhibits feature over 100 wax figures and scenes, including: a full model slave ship exhibit which portrays the 400-year history of the Atlantic Slave Trade, an exhibit on the role of youth in making history, and a room highlighting the contributions to African American history by notable Marylanders. The museum’s co-founder, Dr. Joanne Martin, describes the importance of preserving Black history in this way, stating: ‘everything else, it seems like a movie if you don’t have a sense of exactly what people were fighting against.’