Houston Museum of African American Culture

By Morgan E. Thomas

John Guess, Jr. cuts the ribbon at the opening of the Houston Museum of African American Culture (HMAAC) in 2012. Photo courtesy of HMAAC. 

On the corner of Caroline and Wentworth Streets, a newspaper box stands near the doorway of a white building. Upon closer inspection, the box features an article entitled “REPARATIONS: Where Are Our 40 Acres and a Mule?” while its exterior, which adopts the style of a comic book, illustrates the story of a Black superwoman bearing the letters “BW” on her chest. Inside the building, a panel of glass surrounding the front desk attests to the impact of the coronavirus on local businesses. Nevertheless, Houston’s first African American cultural museum remained open to visitors as much as possible.  

An exhibit organized by curator Emily Bibb housed a multimedium private collection in 2020. The most visible piece, which reads “contemporary” above the painting of a boxer and two women, appears to echo HMAAC’s preference for that style of art. Photo courtesy of Morgan Thomas. 

The Houston Museum of African American Culture (HMAAC) has become a nationally recognized institution since it opened in 2012. It boasts two floors for exhibits, one gallery dedicated to the native Houston artist Bert Long, Jr., a separate alcove for films, and a large room on the second floor with the words “BIG Thoughts Transform People” printed on the wall. Self-proclaimed to be the “most visited African American” establishment in the city with 34,000 annual visitors, HMAAC’s success lies in its multicultural mission, emphasis on contemporary art, and community-oriented perspective. “We’re helping to define an incredibly diverse and multifaceted community of people of color in Houston,” HMAAC’s chief executive officer, John Guess, Jr., told the Houston Chronicle in 2012. “The African-American artists we bring in transcend race, as it should be.” By exploring the historical and the contemporary, HMAAC highlights the “African American experience while informing the wider community of how much that experience is shared” by people of all backgrounds.

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A newspaper box located at the museum entrance hints at HMAAC’s contemporary edge, illustrating a Black superwoman in the style of a comic book. Photo courtesy of Morgan Thomas.  

Black people have been active contributors to Houston’s culture. Here are seven places to see African American Art in Houston.

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John T Biggers (1924-2001) was a prominent African American Artist who established the Art Department at Texas Southern University.
Willow Curry, poet and HMAAC artist in residence, performs her message to Spirit, “This is What Hatred Looks Like.” Photo courtesy of HMAAC. 

The decision to display the bronze sculpture Spirit of the Confederacy in the Houston Museum of African American Culture sparked a lot of controversy.

The University of Houston Libraries Special Collections houses documents of Bert L. Long, Jr.’s life and career as an artist.

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