History of NAAM

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

~ Marcus Garvey 



NAAM is selected for the first cohort of the Standards and Excellence Program (StEPs) by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture and the American Association for State and Local History, one of only seven institutions in the country selected for the first cohort.

NAAM is one of 15 museums across the country named a finalist for the National Medal for Museum Service Award given by the Institute for Museum and Library Services. This is the highest award bestowed upon a museum.

Congratulations NAAMily!

NAAM is awarded the 2019 Exhibition of the Year Award by the Association of King County Historical Organizations for our Bold as Love: Jimi Hendrix at Home exhibition.


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

NAAM in 2018



The Museum celebrates its 5th Anniversary.


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

“NAAM’s mission is to spread knowledge, understanding, and enjoyment of the histories, arts and cultures of people of African descent for the enrichment of all. We accomplish our mission by working with others to: Present and preserve the connections between the Pacific Northwest and people of African descent; and to Investigate and celebrate Black experiences in America through exhibitions, programs and events.”


The Museum opens its doors to the public on March 8, 2008—the realization of a dream 25 years in the making. 36 apartment units open up for affordable housing residents above the museum.

City officials at NAAM’s 2008 Ribbon Cutting Ceremony


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


2004 – 2005

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

Dr. Carver Gayton









2001 – 2003

Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle, under the leadership of the Board of Directors and

Barbara Earl Thomas

CEO James Kelly, takes on the project and purchases the Colman School building purchased in 2003 from the Seattle School District.



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


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.


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.

Colman Building Pre-Renovation


A Task Force is formed to establish an African American museum.


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.

Collage from 1980s flyer