The new space for America’s Black Holocaust Museum, located at North and Vel R. Phillips Avenues, opened its doors to the public Saturday as part of the annual Doors Open Milwaukee event. Although the museum is not set to open until October, visitors were invited inside to view the space.
There are no exhibits on the walls yet, but the building is finished.
The original museum closed in 2008. Since 2012, it has been operating as a virtual museum on its website. Nancy Ketchman, fund development consultant for ABHM, said the fundraising goal is very large, but the museum has made great progress.
"There’s been tremendous in-kind support," Ketchman said. "While we have a large campaign in place, we’ve had so much support from the community that it’s really helped us a lot and moved us along very quickly."
The museum first opened in 1988 in the home of Dr. James Cameron, who died in 2006. Since then, it has had several locations, including the most recent at 2233 N. 4th St. (now North Vel R. Phillips Avenue), on the same block as the new museum. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, many recall taking school trips to ABHM.
"I’d heard about America’s Black Holocaust Museum years and years ago when they had their original space," said Karen Tredwell, who attended the Doors Open event. "I was really disappointed when they weren’t able to keep it open. When I heard they were going to be located in a new space … I was excited."
Cameron’s son, Virgil Cameron, is spearheading the museum’s rebirth, along with Reggie Jackson, head griot; Brad Pruitt, interim executive director; and others. Cameron said his father would be happy about the museum’s new look and direction. "Every day since he passed, and we had to close up the museum, it’s always been on our minds to really try and get this thing open. I could feel him breathing down my neck, ‘Come on, son, you can do it.’"
Ketchman said the museum will offer more than educational tours. She said the community room will provide space for business meetings, celebrations and other events, open to the public by reservation. "There’s not many spaces like this on the north side for community events," Ketchman added.
The original museum on 4th Street cost Dr. James Cameron $1. Cameron said his father "begged and begged" the city for the building, which eventually turned it over to him. Cameron said the new museum was much costlier – about $1 million. "We’re talking about operating capital, building the exhibits and all that," Cameron said.
"As you can see by the demand and by the people coming in, there’s still that interest," Cameron said. "I think we’ll be here forever."