Date of Award

December 2016

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Doreatha Mbalia

Second Advisor

W. Warner Wood

Committee Members

George Barganier, Portia Cobb


African American History, African American Museums, Black Public History, Critical Museology, Museums, Visitor Observation Study


This dissertation seeks to understand how African-American museums’ exhibits help individuals gain their sense of racial identity through public memory. In an era where the United States is supposedly “post-racial” African-American museums are flourishing. As institutions serving an important role in preserving the collective memory of African-American people in the US, African-American museums evoke questions of representation within the larger US narrative that confirm the persistent saliency of race in society, and therefore continue to have a public function in maintaining and developing a racial African-American identity (Jackson 2012; Eichstedt and Small 2002; Wilson 2012; Golding 2009).

My research is focused on the following question: What impacts do African-American museums have on their patrons? An exploration of museums provides a lens through which to examine larger questions around power, representation, and race in the African-American community. In order to illuminate these larger questions I utilize a decolonial framework. A decolonial framework helps me answer my research question in two ways: 1) to explain the political and economic context these museums operate in and 2) to understand the impact the museums have on the patrons’ thinking within this political and economic context.