Black History Brought to Life

OLD NORTH – Matt Allen had a day off from his pizza gig so the Chesterfield resident decided to make a trip to Old North St. Louis to visit the Griot Museum of Black History and Culture.

“I woke up today and I said what am I going to do today? And I said I know what I’m going to do: I’m going to learn about history,” Allen said.

Allen, 36, said he was a history major in college and has been a lifelong student of American history.

“In school, you don’t really learn this,” he said about the African-American experience. “This is so cool and I want to open my eyes up to everything.”

He had a great opportunity to learn about everything because the Griot Museum just about has it all.

With a focus on the black community in the St. Louis area, the Griot Museum features lifelike wax figures of people like activist Percy Green, community leader Macier Shepard, fire chief Sherman George, Miles Davis, Josephine Baker, musician Clark Terry, and former senator J.B. Jet Banks.

The wax figures are surrounded by historical artifacts such as original documents, newspaper clippings, documentary videos and the everyday items used by the historical figures. Visitors enter a world depicting the hardships on the slave ships and turn the corner to see an authentic slave cabin. Another room focuses on the local entertainment scene, another on local activists. Museum goers are greeted by historian Carton G. Woodson and can view exhibits of other black historical figures are they walk down the hall.

Founded by Lois D. Conley in 1997 as the Black World History Wax Museum, the Griot Museum changed its name in 2009 to better reflect its mission: “To collect, preserve and share the stories, culture and history of Black people,” according to the Griot website. Conley did not respond to a request for an interview.

Volunteer Alicia Singleton said visitors like Allen from Chesterfield are nothing new to the museum. She said a family that immigrated from Jamaica visited the museum recently.

“The come from out of state, from across the pond,” said Singleton, who has been a volunteer for 10 years. “A lot of them come specifically for (the museum).”

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