New African American Heritage Museum celebrates contributions

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The Minnesota African American Heritage Museum and Gallery
The Minnesota African American Heritage Museum and Gallery in north Minneapolis on opening day Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018.
Nina Moini | MPR News

The co-founders of the Minnesota African American Heritage Museum and Gallery (MAAHMG) say the idea has been around for a long time.

Others have tried to create a museum focusing on the history of African Americans in the state, but when Tina Burnside and Coventry Cowens teamed up, they made it happen in less than a year.

Cowens is the museum's interim operations coordinator. She's worked as an assistant director of multicultural programs and services at a Twin Cities university. Burnside, a Minneapolis civil rights attorney and writer, is the museum's curator and development team lead.

The two Minneapolis women met by chance in November of 2017 and partnered to create the non-profit museum that officially opened to the public on Saturday.

"This is basically a dream come true," Cowens said. "It's been a part of my dream as a resident of Minnesota to have some place that highlights contributions African Americans have made to the state and region."

The Minnesota African American Heritage Museum and Gallery
The Minnesota African American Heritage Museum and Gallery on opening day Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018.
Nina Moini | MPR News

The 1,100 sq. ft. space for the gallery is housed inside the new headquarters of THOR construction companies on Penn Avenue in north Minneapolis.

Big windows provide natural light that shines on artifacts from more than 200 years ago. The inaugural exhibit is called UNBREAKABLE: Celebrating the Resilience of African Americans in Minnesota.

Those who visit the exhibit will learn about some of the earliest African-American settlers in the state and African Americans who moved to Minnesota from the south. The Great Migration was the mass movement of about five million southern African Americans to the north and west between 1915 and 1960.

The exhibit also features prominent black women who have made a difference in Minnesota as well as artifacts like a service uniform from veterans who served in WWI and WWII when the military was still segregated.

"African American history is American history," Burnside said. "We need to get the full picture of the role and impact of African American contributions to the state of Minnesota. A lot of time that history is not taught in schools."

The co-founders said they are both passionate about inviting schoolchildren and all Minnesotans into the museum.

"We want them to give us their input and suggestions and be part of activities that go on here," Cowens said.

Cowens and Burnside wouldn't say how much it cost to open the museum, but said generous private donations helped pay for it and that the organization is looking for further funding.

Tina Burnside and Coventry Cowens, museum co-founders
Tina Burnside and Coventry Cowens, co-founders of the Minnesota African American Heritage Museum and Gallery on opening day Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018. Burnside is a civil rights attorney and Cowens was an educator in the Minneapolis area.
Nina Moini | MPR News

The co-founders said future exhibits will change every few months and follow history until reaching present day.

"It diminishes our differences when we can truly see where we all came from," Cowens said. "It took a lot of hard work, maybe different paths, but we all got here and we should celebrate it."

Admission to the The Minnesota African American Heritage Museum and Gallery is free.

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