Photo from Kerrytown Concert House

By Deborah Meadows

The African American Cultural & Historical Museum of Washtenaw County (AACHM) was founded in 1993. Our mission is to research, collect, preserve, and exhibit cultural and historical materials about the life and work of African Americans in Washtenaw County. Our programs include videotaped oral histories with the Ann Arbor District Library, Underground Railroad tours, and performances from local artists in our Focus on the Arts events. The latest Focus on the Arts was at the Kerrytown Concert House in October.

The Kerrytown neighborhood was historically home to a melting pot of nationalities, including a small African American community. Their population grew after both World Wars after mass migration of southern Blacks to northern states. Redlining played a part in the formation and maintenance of this community; redlining means to refuse someone a bank loan or insurance because they live in an area deemed to be a poor financial risk. Several African American families in Washtenaw were victims of this unfortunate but intentional practice. A few still reside within the neighborhood, in homes that aren’t yet targets of gentrification. 

In spite of these practices, African Americans had a thriving community in Kerrytown. They raised families, secured employment, and owned businesses in the Black Business district surrounding Fourth Ave and Ann St. Most families could walk to Sunday service at Bethel AME Church at 632 N. Fourth Ave, or to Second Baptist Church at 213 Beakes on the corner of Fifth Ave. Children attended Jones Elementary School in what is now Community High School. The Dunbar Community Center at 420 N. Fourth Ave was operated by and for African Americans to enrich and empower youth and adults through educational and recreational programs.

Across from the old Dunbar Center is the home once inhabited by an African American family at 415 N. Fourth Ave. Today, this building is the Kerrytown Concert House. AACHM recently co-hosted a program with Kerrytown Concert House called 

“Blue Skies: A Jazzy Afternoon with Athena Johnson,” featuring the lush, soulful voice of this local songstress and her skillfully polished musicians. This virtual performance is available for your personal enjoyment at kerrytownconcerthouse.com.

The next time you visit the Farmer’s Market, Kerrytown, or the Concert House, take the time to notice the landmarks of our recent past. Try to picture children laughing on the porch of 420 N. Fourth Ave, or imagine hearing the organ and gospel choirs floating out from open church windows at 632 N. Fourth Ave or 213 Beakes. Take time to read the historical panels that dot our city streets created by the Washtenaw Historical Society. 

Pause and reflect. Recognize that Black history is American history, and American history is our history.

AACHM logo

BIO: 

The African American Cultural & Historical Museum of Washtenaw County (AACHM) was founded in 1993. Our mission is to research, collect, preserve, and exhibit cultural and historical materials about the life and work of African Americans in Washtenaw County. Our programs include videotaped oral histories with the Ann Arbor District Library, Underground Railroad tours, and performances from local artists in our