Uniquely Baton Rouge: River Road African American Museum

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At the River Road African American Museum in Donaldsonville, you are invited to take a journey of learning about the past, in order to understand the future.

“The more you know about the history, I think, the more you’ll understand the dynamics of where we are today” said Darryl Hambrick, Interim Director at the museum.

Hambrick co-founded the museum 26 years ago as a place to not only educate, but a place of healing and hope.

“As we started talking to the community, they started to bring out photographs and documents and then we realized that this gentleman here, Pierre Caliste Landry, who was the first black mayor elected anywhere in the United States” Hambrick said. “I mean you don’t know that but once you find it out, you go ‘wow who else doesn’t know this- the world needs to know this” he said.

The very building that houses the museum is history in and of itself; the Brazier house which belonged to a family of some of the first black doctors in Louisiana. Other artifacts include displays of the rural roots of Jazz and stories of the first self-made millionaire: Louisiana’s own Madame C.J. Walker.

Then there are the more difficult exhibits, illustrating Louisiana’s painful past with slavery, including a well-known photo of the enslaved man Gordon which was taken in Baton Rouge in 1863 as he enlisted in the Union in pursuit of his freedom.

“It’s not Black history, or white history… it’s not cajun history, it’s American history and it’s something that we should all learn and understand the importance” Hambrick said. “Everybody’s history is important.”

The River Road African American Museum aims to tell parts of the story that have traditionally been left out, while also serving as a place of inspiration and hope for the future.

“It’s not all about slavery” said Emanuel Mitchell, a board member at the museum. “It’s about what we have inside of us that’s great and to make America think that we’re so much less but we’re so much greater and that’s what this museum brings out” he said.

“Our museum is here to educate and to inform the public about how do we get through this and how can we not make the same mistakes that we made in the past” Hambrick said.

The museums annual Juneteenth celebration is cancelled this year because of the pandemic, but Hambrick will be giving out face masks instead.

Just like so many others, the museum has been heavily impacted by the pandemic. Right now, they are only open by appointment. There are ways to view digital exhibits and make online donations to help keep the museum afloat. Click here for more information.

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