The Museum of African American History is dedicated to preserving, conserving and accurately interpreting the contributions of African Americans in New England from the colonial period through the 19th century.



Exhibits @ MAAH





Frederick Douglass:


The Most Photographed

American of the 19th Century



through December 2018


Visit MAAH's exhibit galleries in the

Abiel Smith School, one of the preeminent National Historic Landmarks in the

United States on our Boston Campus.


Also don't miss a special installation from

this exhibit on our Nantucket Campus.



Exhibition Checklist

Part I  |  Part II

Educational Resources

Click Here

Contemporary Murals

Click Here



"A century before Martin Luther King Jr. or Malcolm X,

there was Frederick Douglass, arguably the most important

and the earliest African American activist

in United States history."

--Laura Mirsky


Frederick Douglass was in love with photography. From his earliest known photograph in 1841 until his passing in 1895, he sat for his portrait whenever he could and became the most photographed American of the nineteenth century; more photographed than President Abraham Lincoln. In this first major exhibition of Douglass photographs, we offer a visually stunning re-introduction to America’s first black celebrity — immediately recognizable in his own lifetime by millions.

Picturing Frederick Douglass
promises to revolutionize our knowledge of race and photography in 19th century America. It is based upon a recently published, acclaimed book of the same name by Drs. John Stauffer of Harvard University and Zoe Trodd of the University of Nottingham, co-curators of the exhibit.

Many of the exhibition’s photographs were unpublished, forgotten for decades, and previously unseen by contemporary viewers. Several were taken here in Boston. Together, the images trace Douglass’s visual journey from self-emancipated man to firebrand abolitionist and elder statesman. His visual and stylistic evolutions narrate a photographic autobiography across a half-century of history.

This exhibit shows Douglass reinventing himself even as he sought to transform the country, using photography as a tool of reform, and becoming an astute critic of visual culture. It will highlight his use of photography in a deliberate effort to elevate the image of the African American in contradiction to demeaning and inhumane depictions of black life often seen in the 19th century.

Through dozens of photographs, the visitor will experience authentic examples of Douglass’ dynamic, multi-dimensional activism, his public service to this country, and precious time spent with his family. The exhibit will portray a true story that helps to remove the stigma and myth associated with black people, both in the 19th century and today.

More than 90 objects will be featured in the exhibition, including historic photographs, books, newspaper articles, and original letters handwritten by Frederick Douglass. Through interactive displays, colorful graphics and “clickable” digital maps, the exhibit will draw the visitor into this important and exciting time in history.

Programs offered each quarter through-out the year will explore other aspects of our contemporary life that connect to the themes explored in this exhibit.


PHOTO CREDITS: 1-Douglass’ collection; 2-Art Institute of Chicago; 3-Douglass’ collection; 4-Metropolitan Museum of Art; 5-Smithsonian Institution; 6-Collection of Greg French; 7-New York Historical Society; 8-Private Collection (sold by SAG); 9-National Archives; 10-Library of Congress; 11-Douglass’ collection; 12-New Bedford Whaling Museum








Members' Only Preview

Picturing Frederick Douglass:

The Most Photographed American of the 19th Century

Wednesday, July 13 | 6:30pm


MAAH members are being offered an exclusive opportunity to preview the Picturing Frederick Douglass exhibit before it opens to the public two days later. Donate, join, or renew your membership by Friday, July 8 and join us for this special tour with our staff curators.



Private Opening Celebration | Scholars Panel

Frederick Douglass: Revolutionizing Race and Photography

Thursday, July 14 | By Invitation Only

Exclusive to Sponsors, Contributors, and Special Guests **


** This preview event is for major sponsors, large corporate and individual donors, contributors to the exhibit, descendants of abolitionists and 54th Massachusetts Regiment soldiers, MAAH's board of directors and advisory committees, education and community partners, and members of the press.


MAAH presents a Scholars Panel featuring Drs. John Stauffer of Harvard University and Zoe Trodd of the University of Nottingham, England, co-curators of the exhibit and co-authors of Picturing Frederick Douglass: An Illustrated Biography of the Nineteenth Century's Most Photographed American, the acclaimed book upon which this first major exhibition of the famed abolitionist’s photographs is based. Joining them for the panel on Revolutionizing Race and Photography will be award-winning filmmaker Orlando Bagwell and Dr. Manisha Sinha, whose new book, The Slave's Cause: A History of Abolition, is earning rave reviews. The panel, moderated by MAAH Executive Director Marita Rivero, will be followed by an exhibit preview and reception with the curators and panelists, as well as a book signing with the three authors, Sinha, Stauffer, and Trodd.

[Pictured: Bagwell, Sinha, Stauffer, Trodd]

Admission by invitation only  |  Wheel chair accessible



Public Exhibition On View

Picturing Frederick Douglass:

The Most Photographed American of the 19th Century

July 15, 2016 - July 31, 2017

Monday - Saturday | 10am - 4pm


The Picturing Frederick Douglass exhibit officially opens to the public on Friday, July 15 at 10am. This first major exhibition of Douglass photographs, promises to revolutionize our knowledge of race and photography in 19th-century America. The images trace Douglass' visual journey from self-emancipated man to firebrand abolitionist to elder statesman. His visual and stylistic evolutions narrate a photographic autobiography across a half-century of history and show him reinventing himself, even as he sought to transform the country using photography as a tool of reform, and becoming an astute critic of visual culture. The exhibit will highlight his use of photography in a deliberate effort to elevate the image of the African American in contradiction to demeaning and inhumane depictions of black life often seen in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Admission by donation on July 15  |  Wheel chair accessible

Admission fees apply after July 15



Public Opening Celebration | Film Screening

Frederick Douglass: When the Lion Wrote History

Friday, July 15, 2016 at MAAH

5 - 6:30pm | Walk through the exhibit | Light refreshments

6:30 - 8:30pm | Emmy-nominated film & Talk Back with Filmmaker


After Picturing Frederick Douglass officially opens in the Museum’s Abiel Smith School exhibit galleries — Friday, July 15, 10am – 4pm — the public is invited to return to the African Meeting House for a special screening of Director Orlando Bagwell's film, Frederick Douglass: When the Lion Wrote History (90 mins), with introduction by John Stauffer followed by a Talk Back with co-producer Lisa A. Jones. Come early to view some 90 images and artifacts in the first major exhibit of Douglass' photographs. The 54th Massachusetts Regiment Company A reenactors perform drills as people arrive and lead guests into the African Meeting House for the film. The acclaimed documentary, broadcast nationally on PBS stations in 1994 and narrated by Emmy Award-winning actress Alfre Woodard, follows the extraordinary life of Frederick Douglass, an influential 19th century abolitionist. Viewers learn that Douglass was born enslaved, was taught to read as a young boy, and continued his education throughout his life. Interviews with historians, photos and footage of places Douglass lived and visited show him as a persuasive speaker and civil rights activist.

PHOTO CREDIT: Image featured on the cover of the PBS video, When the Lion Wrote History.

RSVP encouraged/click here or call 617.725.0022, ext. 22

Admission by donation  |  Wheel chair accessible


Be among the first to get the word about...


Picturing Frederick Douglass exhibit installations, public and education programs,

scholarly lectures, book parties, MAAH Music concerts, Black Heritage Trail®

tours, and special events for members, educators and school groups.


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*More Than Exhibits at MAAH


Where Words of Thunder Were Spoken by

Frederick Douglass and Other Abolitionist Giants.


The Museum's historic sites in Boston and Nantucket stand witness to 18th and 19th century black patriots and their colleagues who distinguished themselves through brave campaigns to ensure freedom rising across the nation.  Hear amazing stories presented through our exhibits, guided tours, engaging lectures, inspirational concerts, enriching teacher institutes, and fun children’s activities celebrating the roles of Boston’s black and white abolitionists in monumental historic events. Plan a visit to our campuses on Boston's Beacon Hill and Nantucket's Four Corners to become immersed in important American history.


  • Tour the nation's first African Meeting House, the oldest black church building still standing in the US, with a National Park Service Ranger, Boston African American National Historic Site. Hear compelling stories of brave men and women from the Colonial period through the 19th century.
  • See the Abiel Smith School, the oldest public school built to educate black children. Watch a 20-minute film on Boston's powerful black history, and browse the Museum Store for an array of inspired gifts.







May 2015 - May 2016



 Exhibit Galllery Closed
In Preparation for Frederick Douglass


Freedom Rising: Reading,

Writing and Publishing Black Books 

is a celebration of the rich tradition of

African American literature.  


Visitors from around the world have

turned the pages of our Black Books

exhibit since summer 2015. It moves

to the archives, as we begin to install the

Picturing Frederick Douglass exhibit. However,

a few of the rare Black Books, including

an original copies of the famed orator and

author's books will be featured.


Black Books Exhibit and Programs


The Museum's Black Books exhibition and complementary programming examine historical and cultural implications of forbidding enslaved Africans to read or write, and trace the evolution and majestic recovery of their written voices. Free black communities from Boston and beyond used their writings to advance the pursuit of freedom, fuel civil rights campaigns from the Colonial period through the 19th century, and inspire gifted writers through the ages to use words as an agent of social change.


Black Books places pioneering works of 18th and 19th century black authors from the Museum of African American History’s collection of rare books in dialogue with more contemporary works across a wide array of selected genres: poetry, fiction, auto-biography, medicine, military experience, sociology, music and more!  The featured books include David Walker's 1829 Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World together with The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965), and the published work of Phillis Wheatley in dialogue with 20th century poetic works of Sonia Sanchez and Nikki Giovanni. 


Black Books also explores the early black community of Boston and their purposeful, powerful, and prophetic use of the written word in pursuit of freedom and civil rights. The exhibit’s body of literature also examines artistic and creative expression in the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries. It draws on the Museum’s antique book collection, the Clark Collection of African American Literature housed at Suffolk University’s Mildred F. Sawyer Library, and other archives, historical societies, libraries, and museums. 


PHOTO CREDITThe Narrative of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave written by himself (1845)

and David Walker's Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the United States (1829).


I M A G E S    F R O M    M A J O R    E X H I B I T   M O V E    O N L I N E. . .

Commemorate the Sesquicentennial
of the Civil War with MAAH Through 2015.

Add Your Voice to the FREEDOM RISING Online Collection.


Freedom Rising Online - Screenshot of Flickr pageOur comprehensive Freedom Rising Civil War exhibit featured newly acquired sculptures recently added to the Museum's collection, rare carte-de-visites, lithographs, original documents, and much more. While no longer on view in our exhibit galleries, many of its treasures are now available online.


We invite you to be part of this Digital Collections Project. Join numerous of our friends who already have begun to help us gather new data and make

our online collections easily accessible and more meaningful to visitors, on-site and online.


All we need you to do is go to our FLICKR PAGE, scroll the images, tag them and post your comments, key words, ideas, and any questions that you might have to help us better catalog our collections and significantly enhance the experience for users like you. 


Click here to participate!


To add your comment to one or more of the items,

you will be required to login to your Flickr or Yahoo account,

or create one, which is free and easy to do.


CREDITS: This project is funded by the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and the

Massachusetts Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission. 




April 2014 - August 2014


Explore the history of enslavement, migration, and the diverse cultural legacies of Africans in the Indian Ocean World. Africans in India broadens our understanding of the trade in enslaved African people and its impact around the world. Through related public and education programming, we continue the important discussion of freedom rising. Courtesy of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, exhibit panels tell the story of remarkable achievements of people of African descent in India as soldiers, rulers, architects, and more.


To authenticate these stories, the Museum incorporates a collection of artifacts from the 15th through the 20th centuries, including coins, photographs, objects, documents, playing cards, and toys.  Presented in collaboration with the South Asian Arts Council.


CREDITSNawab Sidi Haidar Khan, Kenneth & Joyce Robbins Collection.

Exhibit Commemorates the Sesquicentennial of the

Emancipation Proclamation and Black Civil War Troops


March 2013 - March 2014

Join the Museum of African American HIstory as we commemorate the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation and of the first black troops from the north to serve in the Civil War, including the Massachusetts 54th 'Glory' Regiment, with Freedom Rising


We kicked off our Sesquicentennial Commemoration on December 31, 2012, when the Museum announced the coming of Freedom Rising and presented two back-to-back First Night Jubilee Concerts to a packed African Meeting House in Image:  Union DrummerBoston. Music by Handel + Haydn Society and storytelling by the Museum on the eve of the 150th Anniversary of the signing the Emancipation Proclamation was so well received that we decided to do it again on December 31, 2013.  Music performed by H+H in 1863 as the historic document was signed, including H+H member Julia Ward Howe'sBattle Hymn of the Republic.  The compelling story continued with events of 1864, which occurred while the bravery and fortitude of black Civil War troops was gaining notice across the land.


The Museum also won sponsorship through the Lowell Lecture Series for six outstanding lectures, each featuring noted scholars, leading historians, or outstanding orators. The Museum's Lowell lectures began in January 2013 and were free and open to the public through June. Freedom Rising festivities and events throughout the year saw additional lectures in Boston and Nantucket, and the launch of the new MAAH Music Performance Series.  For a review of events past and details about events coming soon click here.

CREDITS: Henry A. Monroe (1845-1913), 54th Massachusetts Regiment Drummer Boy; Company C; single from New Bedford, MA. Joined 25 Feb 1863; discharged 20 Aug 1865. Museum of African American History

Image: MLK and Signs of Freedom


Image: Poster reads - Remember Them that are in bonds! As bound with them!October 2012 through March 2013

The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
and Signs of Freedom

This exhibit installation celebrates the life and legacy of Dr. King and other heroes of the Civil Rights Movement. Poignant scenes captured by Memphis photographer Ernest Withers include protest signs from the Civil Rights era and powerful broadsides from the Abolitionist Movement recall incredible campaigns for human liberty. These visible signs are reminders of organized peaceful resistance, including sit-ins, freedom rides, strikes, boycotts, marches and other actions to acquire citizenship rights.

Signs of Freedom is a prelude to Freedom Rising, a yearlong exhibit and programming commemorating the Sesquicentennial of the Emancipation Proclamation and of the Massachusetts 54th Regiment, the first black soldiers from the north to serve in the Civil War.

Dr. King asserted that two documents are essential to the nation, American identity and this democracy. The Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776, provided the foundation for freedom from Great Britain and national ideals. The Emancipation Proclamation, January 1, 1863, declared all persons enslaved in states in rebellion free.

CREDITS: Photo: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rev. Ralph Abernathy (Montgomery, Alabama, 1956) ride on one of the first desegregated buses after the Montgomery Bus Boycott. ©Ernest C. Withers Family Trust, courtesy of Decaneas Archive, Boston, Massachusetts. Broadside: Courtesy of Boston Public Library.



Image:  The Color of Baseball in Boston, Exhibit opens April 28, 2012


This exhibit tells little-known stories about players of color and teams who distinguished themselves from the 1800s through the mid 1900s. The exhibit celebrates Boston’s long and proud tradition of amateur and semi-professional blackball. In the years following the American Civil War, baseball grew in popularity in Boston and around the nation. During the 19th and early 20th century, blacks and whites played baseball together on the same teams, while there also were teams comprised soley of men of color.


Among the treasures featured in the exhibit are Will "Cannonball" Jackman‘s uniform, recently conserved; newspaper articles and cartoons; a base signed by Red Sox players for Jackie Robinson Day 2006; baseball cards and antique baseball equipment; as well as rare images of players and teams, including Ernest Withers' photographs of the Negro League Memphis Red Sox.

ABOUT CANNONBALL:Image: Will "Cannonball" Jackman's uniform before restoration, courtesy of the Cannonball Foundation

When Will "Cannonball" Jackman rose to prominence in the 1920s, major league teams were banned fromcontracting with players of color, but Boston baseball fans regarded him as the region's greatest pitcher and top attraction. Pitching for more than 30 years for teams like the Boston Monarchs, Boston’s Philadelphia Giants, and the Boston Colored Giants, Jackman recalls pitching more than 1,200 games and played his last game at the age of 56. On July 14, 1971, dignitaries, including Mayor Kevin White and former Boston Celtics’ star “Satch” Sanders, joined fans and friends for the City of Boston's tribute to Cannonball. He played a celebratory game at Carter Field in the South End.

"The Color of Baseball in Boston" is a new exhibition that sheds light on early American sports history and commemorates the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park.

Don't miss this unique collection of photographs and equipment of the day, including the uniform of
Will "Cannonball" Jackman, referred to as the:

"Best Ballplayer You Have Never Heard Of."

Image: Will "Cannonball" Jackman, on left - West Newton Colored Giants, on Right

      Will "Cannonball" Jackman at bat (left), 1971, courtesy of the Cannonball Foundation,

        West Newton Colored Giants (right), 1936, Courtesy of Historic Newton

Click here for a fascinating story about the uniforms.

View exhibit related events.

Admissions / Directions
Museum entrance fees apply.

Accessible for all.

Portraits of Purpose:
A Tribute to Leadership,
Boston 1980-2012


Don West

Open Thru April 15, 2012


Beverly Morgan-Welch

Ruth Batson

Colin Powell


Gail Snowden

Marita Rivero

Nelson Mandela


Don West

During the 18th and 19th centuries, Boston was a leader among Northern communities of color.  Black Bostonians traveled and interacted with leaders nationally and internationally.  They were entrepreneurs, educators, artists, authors, activists, elected officials, and patriots.  This tradition continues.  Leaders and citizens in Boston’s communities of color have continued to lead and form institutions that have proved critical to the fabric of this city.  Their activism, community involvement, and commitment have led to a better Boston and a better world.

A selection of these dedicated citizens is represented in Don West’s Portraits of Purpose, a collection of life-sized photographs.  Portraits of Purpose gives us an understanding of the many people of Boston and beyond who have acted their conscience… and made a difference.  Their history will not be forgotten.

Don West, noted Boston photographer, has been photographically recording the events and the people in Boston for over 35 years.  He began his career as a freelance and news photographer, making a conscious choice to capture affirmative images of people of color in all facets of community life.  In the 1980s he worked for United Press International and Boston’s black weekly paper, the Bay State Banner.  West has since gone on a host of assignments with major newspapers and magazines such as the Boston Globe, New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, Ebony, People and Black Enterprise.

His passion as a photographer has been to capture the unique spirit of people at work, with their families, and in struggle for what they believe.  His editorial and documentary assignments have taken him throughout the United States, Latin America, Africa, China, Europe, and the Middle East.

His proudest moments in Boston were serving as the photographer for Nelson Mandela when he first visited Boston after release from prison in South Africa (1990), and as an official photographer for Mel King’s historic “Rainbow Coalition” mayoral campaign in Boston (1983).


Don says, “The camera was a way to discover my own identity.”



For more information,
please contact

Chandra Harrington at
617-725-0022 ext. 212
Or by email at


Treasures from the Collections
of the Museum of African American History

Treasures from the Collections is an enlightening glimpse into the collections of the Museum of African American History and fascinating early African American domestic, cultural and activist life in New England. The Museum has gathered over 3,500 items in its diverse collections. First and foremost are its historic sites including National Historic Landmarks, but there are many more objects hidden in the Museum’s storage facilities. Treasures from the Collections provides an exciting and rare opportunity to view some of the most interesting art, documents and material culture collected over more than 40 years. This exhibition presents primary source documents including an 1834 city record of funding for Boston’s “African Schoolhouse” and an 1848 bill of sale for an enslaved boy named Tom; formal photographic portraits by Hamilton Sutton Smith; works by African American women sculptors, Edmonia Lewis, Meta Warrick Fuller and Elizabeth Catlett; hand-crafted and porcelain black dolls; and marvelous art from Allan Crite’s vibrant painting of Smith Court on Beacon Hill to Henry Ossawa Tanner’s etching of a gateway in Morocco.


For more information,
please contact

Chandra Harrington at
617-725-0022 ext. 212
Or by email at

The Life and Times of
Congressman Robert Smalls

Congressman Robert Smalls

46 Joy Street
Beacon Hill, Boston

In a courageous and well planned action during the Civil War, Robert Smalls and three other enslaved men along with their families escaped captivity. They commandeered a Confederate ship, the Planter, in Charleston Harbor! Posing as the ship's captain and crew, they passed Confederate checkpoints by giving the correct signals and sailed to the safety of the Union forces blockading Fort Sumter. Smalls went on to serve in both houses of the South Carolina Legislature and five terms in the United States Congress.

For more information, please contact

Chandra Harrington at
617-725-0022 ext. 212
Or by email at


Featured Past Exhibit

From Iowa to the White House:

Historic Photographs of

President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama

These historic photographs shed light upon the process by which President Barack Obama achieved this nation's highest office. The exhibition not only celebrates the historic election of the first black President of the United States, it also honors the organizational prowess, business and political acumen, and cohesion and courage of the early community of black Bostonians whose efforts helped to make this achievement possible.

Read the photographer's perspective on these historic photographs.

For more information,
please contact

Chandra Harrington at
617-725-0022 ext. 212
Or by email at


See Profiles in Color interview with

Derrick Z. Jackson

View Program @

Featured Past Exhibit

The Smithsonian in Boston.

Sarah Vaughan

Josef Breitenbach(1896-1984)
1950 National Portrait Gallery
Smithsonian Institution


For the first time ever, the Smithsonian Institution comes to the Museum of African American History. Stay tuned for this powerful traveling exhibit of portraits featuring 69
images of African American leaders over 150 years.

The theme was inspired by the words of Henry Highland Garnet, abolitionist, editor and clergyman. In 1843, Garnet addressed the National Convention of Colored Citizens.

“…Rather die freemen than live to be slaves…Let your motto be Resistance!
Resistance! RESISTANCE”…What kind of resistance you…make you must decide by the circumstances that surround you…”

Let Your Motto Be Resistance: African American Portraits, organized by the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the National Portrait Gallery, in collaboration with the International Center of Photography and the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service.

The exhibition, national tour, and catalogue were made possible by a generous grant from our lead sponsor, MetLife Foundation. Additional support was provided by The Council of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.


Exhibition Credits