The Afro American Historical Association Museum
The AAHA packs 1,634 artifacts into its 4,269- square-foot museum. Located at 4243 Loudoun Avenue in The Plains, it presents a static timeline of African American history in Virginia, starting in Africa, continuing into the colonies.
Photographs, copies of newspaper clippings, posters and early letters portray the realities of enslaved African Americans in the 1700s and 1800s. Artifacts and other documentation tell the story of the people and communities of the 1900s. Sometimes visitors to the museum will come across photographs of their ancestors. Family connections are discovered here.
Many of the collection’s items are copies. Since the museum is not climate controlled, families who wish to donate family treasures are asked to contribute a copy while keeping the original. “People really like to see photographs,” said AAHA director Karen White, “but they can fade in our environment.” She said that more and more, she is trying to use monitors to display digital versions of the precious photographs.
Some sections of the museum are interactive. White encourages visitors to “sit at our lunch counter and feel what it was like during the Civil Rights era in Fauquier County.”
Family photographs dominate the museum space as visitors more through time, but a striking display of common negative images reveal the pervasive attempt to trivialize Black Americans during the Jim Crow era — from Aunt Jemima to Uncle Tom to picaninny children.
In the later part of the musuem, photographs of black men and women in the military celebrate their service. The last display acknowledges the contributions of President Barack Obama, America’s first Black president.
The museum is open to all visitors, but is located in a basement space that is not accessible. Events held on the lower level can be viewed by camera on a big screen, from a main floor archive room. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. School groups, church groups and senior citizen groups are welcome. Call ahead (540-253-7488) to arrange a tour.
Searching for answers
Sometimes visitors want to dig deeper into the archives of the AAHA to uncover history that can’t be found in photographs. Those who are looking for details of their own families can find clues in the document archives and databases maintained by the AAHA.
Records of marriages, deaths, , church membership, military service and property ownership may be found, as well as criminal and other court records. Those looking for documentation about their homes or other historic properties may find what they are looking for.
The AAHA staff are experts in these genealogy records of the region and are happy to help those looking for their roots.
Members of the AAHA staff work cooperatively with other historical associations in the county, supporting their events and speaking at their meetings. “We are working together on various projects in 2019, to share resources and share information,” said Karen White, AAHA director. “We are happy to cooperate with any historical associations whose missions align with the mission of the AAHA.”