New African History Museum Opens in Lansing
In 1976, professor and civil rights activist Willie Davis was fired for turning his history class into an African-American history class.
Today Davis has its own museum of African history, All Around the African World Museum and Resource Center.
Through extensive travel and research, Davis has documented the African diaspora around the world, sharing with the Lansing community. Davis has dedicated her life to resistance through education – educating others about the African Diaspora in hopes that they will discover the community’s rich heritage.
Fifty years ago, Davis went to prison for participating in the Civil Rights and Black Power movement. He was a member of the New Africa Republic, a black nationalist group that wanted to have its own state in the south.
“You know, being involved in the civil rights struggle and the black power struggle, and especially in the ’60s when so much literature was coming out about black history,” Davis said. “So when I started doing my international travels, I was always going to places where you know, where there were people of African descent. And if there weren’t, I would find them.
Since obtaining his doctorate. at Michigan State University in International Comparative Education, Davis visited every continent other than Antarctica, researching the African diaspora and collecting photos, artwork and artifacts.
Davis said that once the misconception about people of African descent is that they only come from Africa, when in reality people of African descent come from all over the world.
“There’s been so much negativity about Africa, and…people of African descent, I thought I’d try to illustrate the positive,” Davis said.
Ghana is one of the countries Davis said he finds himself returning to again and again. It started years ago when Davis was working with the Michigan health department. The first year he started with the health department, Lansing organized a public health initiative in Ghana, home to Lansing’s sister city, Akuapim.
Lansing sent aid to Akuapim in the form of wells, medicine, and health education. Davis continued to travel to Ghana with the health department, and their investigations proved that their assistance had helped the sister city.
Now, Davis visits Ghana’s Independence Day festivals every year. Much of the museum is dedicated to his time in the country, with photos from decades past documenting the people he met through his work there.
Tanzania is another favorite Davis destination.
“It corresponds to my spirit, one might say, revolutionary!” Davis said.
From sculptures of unity carved from a single piece of wood, to elaborate spirit masks, and a depiction of the chocolate-making process, the Davis museum is full of different ways to watch and learn. In the European section of the museum, Davis has a corner dedicated to England and the black British community, including photos of black bookstore owners and black London neighborhoods.
In a section that explored the black diaspora in Brazil, Davis had documented a festival honoring a deceased priestess, with photos of women in white dresses, explaining that white was the color of death in that community.
Davis plans to expand the museum this summer, dedicating space to the black community of Lansing, where he can add an artifact he already owns – equipment from the first black cable TV station. 24 hours in Lansing.
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The museum is a detailed resource for those researching the black diaspora. Davis has primary source documents and artifacts from around the world, including British travel guides for black tourists from the 1960s and Michigan research on black populations by county decades ago.
Conserving this museum was important to Davis, as it gave him the opportunity to explore his legacy.
“We have a unique history of not coming here as immigrants; we were brought here by force…so our history was deliberately taken away from us,” Davis said. “So it was important for me to help restore that.”
Davis said he hopes those who visit the museum gain “an appreciation for people of African descent around the world and their contributions…both historical and contemporary.”
Featured on the Greater Lansing Michigan African American Heritage Trail, the museum is a great way to explore local black history. The museum can be visited by making an appointment with Davis, who charges no admission other than voluntary donations and offers a guided tour through each exhibit.