Black History Month

Explore the experiences and contributions of Black Americans throughout different periods of U.S. history by visiting Milwaukee Public Museum's exhibits, engaging in learning opportunities with MPM’s Educators, and exploring additional online resources.


Exhibits & Collections

The Watson Family

Sully and Susanna Watson took their family from the oppressive conditions of antebellum Virginia in 1834 and, after several years in Ohio, arrived in Milwaukee in 1850. Through skilled labor and business entrepreneurship, the couple played a vital role in establishing Milwaukee's Black middle class.

The Watson family photos and papers came into MPM's collections in 1992, and the Museum added the Watson Family Home into the Streets of Old Milwaukee in 2000.

Mural of African History

Designed and created by eight students at the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design, a mural at the entrance of MPM's Africa gallery depicts prominent people, places, events, and symbols in African history. It explores various themes, from the connection between nature and African cultures to the trajectory of Africans to the Americas pre-and-post-Atlantic Slave Trade, to Milwaukee's modern era. Each of the four panels of the mural encapsulates 100 years of history.

WPA Milwaukee Handicraft Project Collection Items

This is the inspiring story of a work program that brought fame to Milwaukee while breaking gender and racial barriers during the Great Depression, told through MPM's collection of toys, textiles, books, and photographs.

The Milwaukee Handicraft Project (MHP), a Works Progress Administration (WPA) program operating from 1935 until 1942, employed more than 5,000 women and racial minorities. The Museum's large collection reflects the ingenuity and skillful craftsmanship of MHP products. The story behind their design and creation is an uplifting tale of empowerment during a difficult period for all Americans.

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Bonus Onsite Learning

MPM Educators will be on the exhibit floors to engage visitors in additional learning opportunities about the following topics:
  • Butterfly Stop-By: Get up close with the residents of MPM's Butterfly Vivarium while learning about the contributions of Black scientists to the field of entomology. Located in Rainforest (First Floor).
  • Civil Rights Timeline: Milwaukee has a rich history of militant, principled struggles for racial justice. Use our timeline challenge to learn more about the tactics, timing, and outcomes of these local efforts to create an equitable future. Located in Sense of Wonder (First Floor).
  • The Watson Family: Learn more about the Watson family, who played an integral role in establishing Milwaukee's Black middle class. Explore the lives of Sully, Susanna, and their children through documents that help tell their story from antebellum Virgina to 1850s Milwaukee. Located in Streets of Old Milwaukee (First Floor).
Thursday, November 2, 11 a.m. - 1 p.m.

Additional Resources

Histories of Jim Crow and Apartheid

This panel discussion moderated by Dr. Robert Smith of America's Black Holocaust Museum explores policy and racial justice movements in the U.S. and South Africa and considers the differences and similarities between Jim Crow and Apartheid.