The Reginald F. Lewis Museum in Baltimore celebrates African American culture in Maryland. The permanent collection traces the history and culture of African Americans living in Maryland. Items in the collection include paintings, sculptures, and textiles as well as rare books, photographs, and other artifacts. The Scipio Collection tells the story of America’s “Buffalo Soldiers,” the nickname given to the “Negro Cavalry” by the Native Americans they fought against in the Indian Wars.

The notable collection of military artifacts dates as far back as 1872 and was donated by Dr. L Albert Scipio, who served as a child mascot for the 24th Infantry. Also in this collection is a rare group of Native American scout artifacts. The Louis G and Shirley Hecht collection includes close to 4,000 jazz records from the 1920s through the 1960s as well as magazines, books, journals, and newspaper clippings that document the musicians in the collection. The Genevieve McMillan African Art Collection consists of close to 100 items of African Art, including sculptures, masks, and textiles, donated by the Genevieve McMillan and Reba Stewart Foundation.

The permanent exhibits at the museum tell the story of African American history in Maryland through three exhibits. Things Hold, Lines Connect tells the story of 200 years of slavery and its impact on families and community. In Building America, Building a Nation, visitors learn about the impact of slave labor on industry in Maryland and how the exploitation of the skills of slaves built riches for both the state and the nation. The Strength of the Mind exhibit showcases the African American experience of transforming suffering through creative outlets and chronicles Maryland African Americans’ accomplishments in art, music, and education. Throughout the permanent exhibits, stories are told by way of historical artifacts from the permanent collection.

History: Reginald F. Lewis (1942–1993) was a Baltimore area lawyer and entrepreneur. Lewis was a graduate of Virginia State University and the Harvard School of Law. He established the first African American law firm on Wall Street. In 1983, he bought, nursed to health, and sold the McCall Pattern Company, earning a $50 million profit, and later became chairman and CEO of Beatrice Foods, a corporation with over $1.6 billion in annual sales. In 1987, he used his fortune to establish the Reginald F. Lewis Foundation, giving over $15 million in grants and donations over the next 10 years. After Lewis’ untimely death in 1993, his foundation continued. The museum was originally planned as the Maryland Museum of African American History and Culture, but was renamed in honor of the Reginald Lewis Foundation’s $5 million gift, to be used in partnership with the Maryland State Department of Education to create educational programming. The museum opened in 2005.

Ongoing Programs and Education: Programming at the museum includes temporary exhibitions on art, artifacts, and history in addition to performances. The General Audience series includes author talks, workshops, and lectures. There is a film series called Sundays @ 2, which offers films related to African American history or to the current special exhibits. Third Thursdays hosts a jazz performance once monthly on Thursday evening accompanied by a cash bar. The museum stays open these nights so attendees may also tour the permanent exhibits. The Saturday’s Child series offers interactive, hands-on workshops for children to explore African American history. Educational programming includes school tours, group tours, and performances. The museum offers resources to educators in partnership with the Maryland State Department of Education. A resource center at the museum offers guests free access to genealogical research. The Genealogy Series of lectures informs guests on best practices for researching family history and emphasizes the African American experience.

Past and Future Exhibits: Past art exhibitions have included juried high school art shows, art by contemporary African American artists such as Hank Willis Thomas, Chris Johnson, and James Pate as well as art by historically important African American artists such as Ruth Starr Rose (1887–1965). Nelson Mandela: Madiba - Photographs of a Legend showcased the photography of photojournalist Benny Gool, who spent years photographing the public and private life of Mandela. Henrietta Lacks: HeLa Project was co-sponsored by HBO as a companion exhibit to the recent movie, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and tells the story of the woman known as the “Mother of Modern Medicine.”

830 E. Pratt St. Baltimore, MD 21202, website, Phone: 443-263-1800

Back to: Baltimore, MD

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