History of NAAM

“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin, and culture is like a tree without roots.” ~ Marcus Garvey 


Collage from 80s flyer



The idea of an African American museum housed in the Colman School building is proposed to Mayor Charles Royer by the Community Exchange, a multi-racial coalition 


A Task Force is formed to establish an African American museum 




The previous Colman School was selected to be the home of the museum.  African American community activists Earl Debnam, Michael Greenwood, Charlie James and Omari Tahir Garrett occupy the recently closed Colman School to establish and claim the site as the desired museum location. 

1986 – 1990 

Colman Building pre-rennovation

A continuous search for other possible locations. The City of Seattle, Seattle School District, and community activists explore other possible locations for a museum. 


A not-for-profit organization called the African American Heritage Museum and Cultural Center is formed.  A Board of Directors is selected to oversee the project with Mayor Norman Rice’s office. 


Mayor Norman Rice appoints Bob Flowers to chair the African American Heritage Museum Board. 

2001 – 2003 

Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle, under the leadership of the Board of Directors and CEO James Kelly, takes on the project and purchases the Colman School building purchased in 2003 from the Seattle School District. 

Dr. Carver Gayton


2004 – 2005 

Dr. Carver Gayton is appointed Executive Director and Barbara Earl Thomas is appointed Deputy Director of the Northwest African American Museum. 


The Museum gains independence from the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle and obtains its own 501(c)3 status. 




Barbara Earl Thomas

The Museum opens its doors to the public on March 8, 2008—the realization of a dream 25 years in the making. 


The Museum completes a 5-Year Strategic Plan and adopts a new mission statement.  


The Museum celebrates its 5th Anniversary. 


The Museum experiences a rebirth as it celebrates its 10th Anniversary.