A Brief History of the African American Heritage Museum & Cultural Center

Establishing a world class museum and cultural center to preserve the art, history culture, traditions and achievements of African Americans has been a dream of Seattle’s African American Community for many years.

Efforts to establish an African American Heritage Museum & Culture Center in Seattle began in 1969 and came to the forefront in 1981 when Omari Tahir-Garrett and Isaiah Edwards led a community based coalition in opposing the construction of a police precinct in the heart of Seattle’s historically Black Central District, proposing a positive cultural institution instead. After successfully blocking the construction of the police precinct, the community turned its attention to the recently closed Colman school as an ideal future home of the African American Heritage Museum & Cultural Center. When the mayor began to go back on his commitment to developing the museum, a dedicated few took action.

On Nov. 23, 1985 the longest recorded act of civil disobedience in U.S. history began when Omari Tahir, Earl Debnam, Charlie James, Michael Greenwood, Lawrence Robinson and Greg Anderson occupied the abandoned Colman Elementary School, demanding that the building be developed into the African American Heritage Museum & Cultural Center in Seattle, WA

In 1993, at the direction of African American Mayor Norm Rice, several of Mayor Rice’s Boule (Sigma Pi Phi) fraternity brothers became involved with the project including Bob Flowers who became the Chairman of the board. In 1997 the School Board voted to sell the building to the AAHMCC for $329,000. In 1998 the AAHMCC entered in to a contract to purchase Colman School from the Seattle School District.

After being questioned by board members regarding the management of museum funds, Flowers began subverting the progress of the AAHM&CC organization. He refused to make the down payment on the building even after the city of Seattle provided additional funds to do so. He would go on to later attempt to orchestrate the removal of founding board members. At the time Mr. Flowers was also a board member of the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle Board of Directors, who would eventually seek a development project of their own at the Colman school.

In 2000, after prolonged negotiations with the School District, the AAHM&CC presented the check for $50,000 dollars for the down payment on Colman school. The check was returned to the AAHMCC because certain School District officials were colluding with Flowers and his attempt to breach the contract. Soon after, the Urban League was enlisted by White corporate gentrifiers and presented a proposal for a condominium based real estate development called the “Urban League Village”. The City council would then take $400,000 earmarked for the AAHMCC organization and give it to the Urban League for a gentrification feasibility study instead.

The Urban League, illegally double-purchased the building for $804,000 in 2003 and has been given nearly twenty five million dollars to execute the wishes of the downtown corporate community. In 2005, Carver Gaytion–a former FBI agent Carver and Sigma Pi Phi (Boule) fraternity brother of both Norm Rice and Bob Flowers–was appointed Executive Director at an inflated salary of $100,000 per year. In March 2009 Norm Rice was named chairman of the board of the Northwest African American Museum.

The current gentrification of the AAHM&CC is being sponsored by corporations such as Microsoft, Boeing, Starbucks and many others who seek to eliminate Black presence in Central and Seattle as a whole. The Urban League Village opened in March 2008 however much controversy continues to surround the project as the founders of the project continue to mobilize a nationwide campaign to fulfill the original vision of a world class cultural center.