For nearly two decades, the African American Museum of Southern Illinois has celebrated the achievements of outstanding black citizens. Now it’s celebrating an achievement of its own. “For an African-American museum, 20 years is a milestone, and it’s a milestone for an institution in Southern Illinois,” said Carolin Harvey, board member and chair of the museum’s 20th Anniversary Celebration Committee. The volunteer-run museum, located in University Mall near The Science Center, boasts an extensive collection of artifacts, from slave shackles and Underground Railroad message quilts to paintings by local artists. Corene McDaniel became inspired to start the museum while reviewing applications for NAACP awards when she was president of the local NAACP branch. She was stunned by the accomplishments of some of Carbondale’s black residents.
Education is important
McDaniel and her husband, Milton, decided they would start putting together photographs and artifacts related to local black history. They stored the items in boxes under their bed, and in 1997, they set up shop in University Mall. Past board president Zenetta McDaniel Coleman, their daughter, joked that she “didn’t have much of choice” in getting involved. When she moved back to Carbondale in 2007 after relocating to pursue a master’s degree, she became an active board member. “I think cultural awareness is important, education is important, bringing attention to the history that is often lost,” Coleman said. “Growing up, honestly, not until there were some exhibits that were actually displayed in the museum and I took time to absorb them and learn about them did I know that members of my community — church members that I’d gone to church with, teachers that were either my classroom teachers or teaching in my school, or the grandparents of people that I grew up with — did such magnificent things.”
Preservation of black history
Careful preservation of black history is one of the museum’s key tasks. But it also offers some programs geared toward engaging the community; Santa in the Park and the Juneteenth Celebration are among its annual community efforts. This year, the museum began offering free workshops on the third Thursday of each month. “We’re just trying to find issues that are relevant to all community members, but particularly the African-American community, things that we don’t necessarily really get to talk about — financial advisement, how to reduce your debt, how to secure a substantial and credible credit score,” Coleman said. Their best-attended event this year, held in February, celebrated black couples who had been together for 20 years or more.