Idaho’s only Black history museum

A museum in Boise seeks to deepen the state’s understanding of its past.

 

It’s fitting that the former St. Paul Baptist Church — Idaho’s first Black church — is now home to the Idaho Black History Museum. The museum, which opened in 1999, features a permanent display called “The Invisible Idahoan: 200 Years of Blacks in Idaho,” which tells the story of Black families in the state. “That’s the history I want to tell of Black Idaho,” said Executive Director Phillip Thompson. “It makes you aware of how long Blacks have been in Idaho, because it hasn’t been told.” Thompson knows this firsthand: His great-great-grandfather was the church’s first pastor. 

Thompson tries to keep the museum’s footprint “small and nimble.” There are new exhibits every few months, including the current one, which examines how, at various times, Black people in Idaho enjoyed opportunities in education, jobs and land ownership that they were denied in other states. “People have been shocked,” Thompson said. One of the original copies of the Emancipation Proclamation is on permanent display.

The museum is also part of the larger Boise community, organizing blood drives and hosting special events. A recent talk focused on safety; in the last decade, almost a third of Idaho’s hate crimes targeted Black people in the state. Other educational and outreach efforts help extend the museum’s impact far beyond its four walls. One project has been particularly popular with younger visitors, Thompson said — a series of graphic novels that he and his daughter created for teaching kids (and their parents) about Black world history.

Kylie Mohr is an editorial intern for High Country News writing from Montana. Email her at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor. See our letters to the editor policy. 

 

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