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New museum opens to highlight contributions of African Americans in Southern Arizona

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Kiara Adams | The Daily Wildcat

The African American Museum of Southern Arizona, located in the Student Union Memorial Center, opened on Saturday, Jan. 14. The museum celebrates Black history and culture in Southern Arizona.

The African American Museum of Southern Arizona held its grand opening ceremony on campus at the Student Union Memorial Center on Saturday, Jan. 14.

The mission statement for the museum said: “We are devoted to gathering and sharing stories, images, and artifacts as we document, digitize, and preserve African American and Black life, culture, and history in Southern Arizona to benefit the community.”

The museum was co-founded by Beverly and Bob Elliot who have deep ties to the Tucson and the University of Arizona community. The idea for the museum came two years ago after their 7-year-old grandson was assigned to write a report about an influential African American for Black History Month.

What made the Elliots take on this project was that they were upset that there was not a place in Tucson for their grandson to find this information, so they took it upon themselves to create one.

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Inside the museum, there were various displays of Black history specifically dedicated to Southern Arizona, including displays for Buffalo Soldiers, the CROWN Act and a display honoring the first Black head coach at a major university: Fred Snowden.

The turnout included people from all across Arizona with various interests in Black history.

“This museum is important because we need our young people to know that there were Black cowboys and cowgirls across history, and this museum shows them that,” Maxine Turner, a member of the Arizona Black Rodeo, said. The annual rodeo is dedicated to Buffalo Soldiers in Arizona.

Others in attendance included Lehman Benson III, the vice president of Black Advancement and Engagement at the UA. Before the ribbon cutting, Benson shared a few words from President Dr. Robert C. Robbins who was unable to be in attendance at the ceremony.

“I want to express my immense and many thanks to the University of Arizona Alumni Beverly and Bob Elliot for making this museum possible. The museum will serve as a much-needed resource not only for our students but for the community as well,” Benson said on behalf of Robbins. 

A comment Robbins shared was also featured across signs of the museum, which stated, “We are a movement, not just a museum!” According to Benson, Robbins previously stated this about the new space at another event.

The ribbon was cut by the Elliots’ 9-year-old grandson, Jeremiah, otherwise known as Jody. Since his school project sparked the idea for the museum, Bob Elliot figured it was only right if Jody did the honors.

Inside the museum, Kimberlee Avant, Jody’s mother, shared why she wanted to join her parents in the quest to create this project.

“My boy needed to learn that there is Black history all across this country, even here in southern Arizona,” Avant said.

The event was highly celebrated by members of the community and those who were able to attend. This has been a project two years in the making, so for many people to see the culmination of it was very exciting for them.

“They’ve worked so hard on this,” Benson said about the Elliots. “The contributions of African Americans in the Southwest deserve to be recognized.”

Following the ribbon-cutting ceremony, parties interested in volunteering or attending the museum will be able to make an appointment by emailing aamuseumofsouthernaz@gmail.com. Admission is free and regular hours are planned to be established soon. 


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