The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History is celebrating its 50th year, despite a social media-induced scare last month that implied the museum's future was uncertain.
The Grio, a news website, published an article titled “Nation’s largest black history museum struggles to remain open” on May 22, 2014. Last month, the article’s comment section and social media posts erupted with questions and concerns about the current state of the museum. As of June 16, 2015, the article has 46,100 shares on Facebook and 549 shares on Twitter.
Located on Warren between John R and Brush, the Wright Museum is the nation’s largest black history museum and has been a Detroit institution since 1965. Ted Canaday, the museum’s chief marketing and development officer, said the museum is not in financial distress and was not in danger of closing before or after the article was published in 2014. He said he is unsure why the article gained social media popularity so long after its original publication.
In The Grio article published in May 2014, reporter Kimberly Taylor Hayes wrote: “The museum’s 30,000-piece collection of artifacts and archives … along with its 125,000 square foot building may be sold to help reduce the city’s debt.”
Canaday said this possibility was never a fear of the museum.
“There was never any discussion of the museum being for sale or our collections being for sale to settle the city’s debt,” Canaday said. “Those were things that I think people had conjectured about or questioned when Detroit was going through the (bankruptcy) process.”
In February 2015, Rochelle Riley of the Detroit Free Press reported: “In 1997, the city of Detroit, which owns the Wright Museum … pledged to pay half the museum’s operating costs each year, but it never did. The city's contribution finally dropped to 48% in 2010 to just 21% in 2014, a year after Detroit's financial crisis grew so bad that it had to declare bankruptcy.”
Canaday explained that the museum is always seeking community support, which could explain The Grio article’s insinuation that the museum was struggling financially.
“We never reach a point where it's ‘All right, we don’t need donations anymore.’ That just doesn't happen,” he said. “Yes, we do need support from the community, but that's ongoing support. It’s not emergency support to keep our doors open.”
Frank Addo, a WSU alumnus and current member of the university's Student African American Brotherhood, said he didn’t hear the rumors, but was relieved to hear the museum’s doors are still open.
“I think it's an important part of Midtown and an important part of Detroit,” Addo said. “It brings people together and it's been a staple in the community for a while. Students can learn a lot by being exposed to different things.”
Black Student Union President Jasmyne Brantley agreed. She said the museum has a unique power to inspire students who have not been exposed to diversity before coming to WSU and to inspire those who want to learn more about their own culture and history.
“Students can just go right up the street and learn history, learn about inventors (and) artwork,” she said. “All of the different activities the museum has during the school year or during the summer gives people a chance to experience a different culture.”
As the Wright Museum celebrates its 50th year, Canaday said there’s never been a better time to explore what it has to offer.
“No one was going to let us close,” he said. “This museum means too much to the city.”
Students interested in exploring the museum are encouraged to visit on the second Sunday of each month when entry is free or consider volunteering.