The Black Archives Museum showcases the achievements and contributions of St. Joseph, Missouri’s, African American citizens. Exhibits span the Antebellum and Civil War, jazz legends known worldwide, and local individuals whose civic and community leadership have changed our lives. Originally known as the Knea-Von Black Archives, it was founded in 1991 by Jewell Robinson, a former teacher at Bartlett High School in St. Joseph.
Robinson organized young adult clubs where students could learn about Black culture and heritage. When Mr. Robinson became ill, his wife, Geraldine, continued to operate and maintain the Black Archives until 2002 when it became a member museum of the St. Joseph Museums, Inc. The Black Archives Museum features exhibits on such topics as the Underground Railroad, the Middle Passage, Desegregation, Education, Sports, and Music.
The influence of Black musicians from St. Joseph on the American music scene is honored with exhibits about the “Father of the Tenor Sax,” Coleman Hawkins. Coleman Hawkins was born in St. Joseph, Missouri, on November 21, 1904. His father, Will, was an electrical engineer and his mother, Cordelia, was a teacher. He first heard jazz on 2nd Street in St. Joseph where bands were known to play all night long. His ear for music was obvious to his mother who taught him to play the piano at five and introduced him to the cello at seven. By nine, he discovered the tenor sax, which was the instrument that would bring him international fame. During his 40-year career, Coleman played with such greats as Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, and Miles Davis. He is best known for his 1939 recording “Body and Soul,” a beautifully balanced improvisation that is still the standard to which jazz musicians aspire. He died on May 19, 1969, in New York City and was inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame in 1982. In honor of the man and his music, the Coleman Hawkins Jazz Festival is celebrated on the third weekend in June in Coleman Hawkins Park on Felix Street.
View the video “In Their Own Words: An Oral History of African Americans in St. Joseph”. Published on Mar 11, 2014. Fourteen individuals speak about what it was like growing up in St. Joseph and the surrounding areas during segregation and the Civil Rights Movement.
See a wall sized painting of the Battle of Island Mound, Harrisonville, MO in the Black Archives Exhibits at the St. Joseph Museums 3406 Frederick Avenue.
1st Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry commandeers the Toothman Farm and renames it 'Fort Africa'. The battle was significant as the first time African-American troops on the Union side engaged enemy white troops in the Civil War.
Official Black Archives Museum
Friends Who Like Black Archives Museum of St. Joseph
St. Joseph residents, black and white talk about the unspoken side of race relations in the 'River City'.