Black Legacy: 5 Historic House Museums Once Inhabited By Influential Black Figures

by Duke Magazine

There is no lucid explanation about the richness in history and culture of African-Americans without attributing the discourse to the historic houses turned museum that has preserved the memory of influential Black figures who had in their lives inhabited the houses. 

The houses, also known as ‘memory museums’, were hugely built around great Black people who lived there, as these personalities could be abolitionists, civil rights activists, inventors, musicians, poets, educators, activists, and more. These African-American big shots made history and significant contributions even in the midst of people and societies that discriminated against them.

However, it is rather imperative you visit these house museums in the United States to know more about your super hero lives well spent in these structures they once called home.

Lewis Latimer House Museum

Image credit: Facebook/ Historic House Trust IG New York City

The Lewis Latimer House was the home of African-American inventor and electrical pioneer, Lewis Howard Latimer, from 1903 until his death in 1928. The modest Queen Anne–style house was built from 1887 to 1889, and it remained in the Latimer family until 1963. When it was threatened with demolition, the house was moved from Holly Avenue to its present location in 1988. Currently, the Lewis Latimer House, owned by the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation, is a member of the Historic House Trust. The wood-frame suburban residence is operated by the Lewis Latimer Fund, Inc.

Old Stone House Museum

Image credit: Old Stone House Museum

Managed by the Orleans County Historical Society in Brownington, Vermont, the Old Stone House Museum was once a student dormitory before it became part of the Brownington Village Historic District, a district of ten historic buildings added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. It was built in 1836 by Alexander Twilight, the first African-American to graduate from college in the U.S. in 1823 and the first African-American to serve in a state legislature. Composing of 22 rooms of exhibits across four floors, Twilight’s home has been a museum for years since 1925.

Frederick Douglass National Historic Site

Image credit: National Park Service

Frederick Douglass remains a towering figure in the annals of history for his long-established fight against the practice of slavery in America. The former slave gained his freedom in 1838, marking the beginning of a journey that still astounds to this day. Cedar Hill, his former home in Washington, D.C., is now a National Historic Site. The Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, administered by the National Park Service, currently preserves the estate of Douglass. The famous abolitionist lived in Cedar Hill from 1877-1888 until his death in 1895.

Louis Armstrong House Museum

Image credit: Atlas Obscura

Louis Armstrong House Museum was the home of iconic trumpeter, Louis Armstrong and his wife Lucille Wilson, from 1943 until his death in 1971. Lucille subsequently gave ownership of the house to the city of New York in order to create a museum that will honor the legacy of her husband. The museum currently provides “access to Mr. Armstrong’s extensive archives, and develop programs for the public that educate and inspire,” according to the website.

Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site

Image credit: Facebook/ Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site

Pioneering educator and civil rights activist, Mary McLeod Bethune became a special advisor to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and led voter registration drives amid racist attacks. In 1924, she was elected president of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs and became the founding president of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) in 1935. Bethune lived at the Washington, D.C. townhouse (now the Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site), which was also the first headquarters of the NCNW. From that house, Bethune and the NCNW initiated programs to uplift African-American women, children, and families.

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