With the month of February underway, Auburn residents can look forward to the celebrations of Black History Month with the coming addition of a new museum in Auburn that will showcase the rich history of African Americans in the community.
The Auburn Center for African American History and Culture will be one part of a three-stage redevelopment project in Northwest Auburn. In the projected budget, the city of Auburn will redevelop the Public Works and Environmental Services area off North Donahue Drive into a complex that will include the center, a library and a swimming pool. The Boykin Campus Improvements project is currently in the programming/design phase, with a current project budget of $1 million for Fiscal Year 2022, according to a presentation last summer on the city's Capital Improvement Plan.
According to Al Davis, Community Services director for the city, the legacy of African Americans in the Auburn community is embedded in the history of the Plains.
“What we hope this museum will do is showcase how integral African American history is to the history of Auburn as a whole,” Davis said. “A lot of residents don’t know the history of black businesses that were once a vital part of Auburn’s economy.
“I think the addition of this museum will be a great thing, especially for residents who lived through some of these historic times.”
Davis stated that the center will highlight Auburn residents and their ancestral history, prominent Black figures from the east Alabama area and black businesses in Auburn all while tying in the history of the Boykin Community Center in Northwest Auburn.
The Boykin Center served as Auburn's first public elementary school that served only African-American students and was founded in 1951, when it also briefly functioned as a junior high school," said Davis.
Boykin Street Elementary remained the institution for Auburn’s African-American grammar school students until integration in 1970. Boykin Street functioned as a middle school until the facility closed in 1983. The city of Auburn now uses the building, located at 400 Boykin Street, as a community center.
One prominent figure Auburn citizens can expect to see in this museum has very close ties to east Alabama.
“One concept we really wanted to emphasize is the role of Rosa Parks,” Davis said. “We all know she has close ties to the area, especially with her being born and raised in Tuskegee, which is right in the next county.”
“We wanted to not only highlight Auburn African-American history but highlight her as well so she will be featured in her own room and exhibit in the center.”
Another concept that the city wants to highlight will be seen in the overall design of the building, a design that Davis said is native to the history of east Alabama as well.
According to Davis, the new center will be designed in the style of the original Rosenwald School. Rosenwald Schools were built and funded through the Julius Rosenwald Fund to help in the rise of literacy for African Americans at the turn of the 20th century. Founded by Julius Rosenwald, a Jewish immigrant and partner in the start-up of Sears & Roebuck, the first six buildings funded through Rosenwald’s personal philanthropy were built near Tuskegee University between 1912 and 1914. Featuring a two classroom building, the Auburn center will follow this historical style of the Rosenwald Schools, Davis said.
“In one room, the museum will showcase Auburn’s black history while the other room will be dedicated to Rosa Parks,” Davis said. “With this, we are able to display everything we want.”
As for artifacts, Davis hopes to see local artifacts from Auburn residents memorialized for generations to come.
“I imagine some of the citizens in Northwest Auburn have been holding on to family heirlooms for years,” he said. “By donating them to the museum, not only will they be preserved for that family, they will also be able to help tell the story of Auburn’s African-American history.
“When the time comes, I’m sure there will be many groups ready to collect items from the Auburn community to tell the story of our history.”
Davis said he would also like to thank the city of Auburn for dedicating the space and resources to something he said will benefit the entirety of the community.
“I am so excited for our citizens to finally have a physical location that showcases African-American history in Auburn,” Davis said. “With this museum, it will no longer be a story passed amongst families and friends. The center will finally create a legacy of African-Americans in Auburn.”