‘Great Blacks in Wax’ museum features black historical figures

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With Black History Month just around the corner, there’s a unique way to learn about the African-American experience other than opening up a textbook.

The National Great Blacks in Wax Museum in Baltimore has been featuring African-American historical wax figures for the past 30 years.

When they opened the first African-American wax museum in 1983, founder Dr. Joanne Martin and her late husband Dr. Elmer Martin were inspired to create the museum when they realized children in their community felt the color of their skin was a negative trait.

“For children, it becomes as close as we can to help them understand that [these historical figures] were real people who had real challenges, who had to make hard decisions in life,” Martin told theGrio in a phone interview. “[The displays] depict their struggles and hardships in a more tangible way.”

Starting with only four wax figures in their store front in the early 1980s, the museum now has moved into a 15,000 square foot facility and houses over 150 African-American wax figures.

From a scene of Harriet Tubman helping to free a runaway slave to a powerful display of a black man being lynched, Martin’s mission for the museum is to depict compelling, realistic scenes to stimulate a public interest for African-American history.

She believes while children learn about these prominent black historical figures in school, many of them do not know what these men and women look like.

“[Our museum] puts a face on history — brings these people up close and personal,” Martin adds. “As a child growing up, I didn’t even know what Booker T. Washington looked like and I’m from the south! He was one of the most well-known and powerful men during his time. I didn’t know what he looked like until I saw the figure in the museum.”

The museum plans on setting up a national traveling exhibit so other cities can experience these one-of-a-kind wax figures. While the schedule for the exhibit is still pending, Martin tells theGrio that they plan on traveling to Dallas, Jacksonville, and Panama City.

The museum is also hoping to expand again to an even larger, more modern facility in April 2017.

While February or “Black History Month” tends to be the museum’s busiest time, Martin also encourages the community to visit the exhibit throughout the entire year, reinforcing the names of these figures in the minds of young people.

“You’re in a position to teach people history that art, pictures, books or other media won’t allow,” Martin says. “So much history, so much struggle, so many people to be honored, therefore it takes more than a month to be able to do justice to black history.”

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