The Black Archives Museum

February 15, 2022


DEFINITION: stimulating careful consideration or attention

Most people who visit the Black Archives Museum of St. Joseph say almost the same thing.

It’s “wow,” and usually this is followed by a lot of thoughtful silence.

St. Joseph is a rare city among those its size – and those of any size – to offer a place to learn, see, understand and honor the stories and lives of our Black community. Founded in 1991 by Jewell Robinson, a former Bartlett High School teacher, the Black Archives Museum celebrates the contributions and achievements of many of St. Joseph’s “uncommon” characters – like jazz great Coleman Hawkins and entrepreneur Charles Baker, founder of the Induction Heating Radiator. But it also serves to honor and recognize the hard work and grit of so many residents who have worked to create opportunities for the Black community and the community as a whole. In 2001, the Black Archives Museum became a member museum of the St. Joseph Museums, Inc., which further extends its exhibit collection and its reach.

It would be difficult to miss the unique “tying-in” aspect of the Museum. Multiple generations of St. Joseph residents are recognized, and multiple generations come to see the exhibits and share the stories. This strengthens everyone’s connection to who we are as a city, and the great things we want to do in the future. There’s also the tying-in of multiple historical events, with exhibits spanning across the Civil War in Missouri, the Underground Railroad, entrepreneurism and business, education, music and civic leadership. The video, “In Their Own Words: An Oral History of African Americans in St. Joseph,” features fourteen individuals speaking about their personal experience growing up in St. Joseph during the Civil Rights Movement. Numerous photos and artifacts continue to inspire and educate.

Group visits and special events across the year help carry the mission forward. A hallmark of the Black Archives is the Black Archives Hall of Fame, which adds two new members in February each year. On Feb. 24, 2022, the new inductees will be Ecy Bullock and James Dodd, with a ceremony and reception at the Museum.

Rev. Ecy Bullock is a lifelong resident of St. Joseph and has used his degree in mortuary science and Master’s degree in Business administration to serve as owner/director of Bullock Family Funeral Chapel and Ashland Cemetery. He has served the community across many levels, including leadership, business, Boy Scouts and entrepreneurship.  James Dodd is a United States Air Force Veteran and a graduate of Bartlett High School. He has been instrumental in organizing many Bartlett High School reunions and preserving local history. He is a member of the Testrams club, Keystone Lodge 173, and membership chairman of the St. Joseph NAACP, as well as a trustee at St. Francis Baptist Temple.

Sara Parks, Programming and Events Manager, St. Joseph Museums, Inc., says the many people don’t know that the Black Archives has so many different aspects of the community story to tell. “There are a lot of inspiring stories of how local people changed our community,” says Parks. “Exhibits cover a wide time range, with topics like slavery in Missouri, the Civil Rights movement and more recent leaders and events. Some of the exhibits are interactive, such as letting the visitor make choices and see how they would affect their lives, including those that impacted Missouri during the Civil War and our role on the border with Kansas.”

Parks says in the future, the Museums would like to expand the Black Archives Museum wing to include the entire second floor, allowing more space for fresh new information and objects. As we look ahead to this uncommon piece of our city’s history and museum scene, let’s all take a moment to be grateful for the stories – and most importantly, for the people who lived them and those working to share them.


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