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Historic Oliver

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Building on Love: 40 yrs & counting of The National Great Blacks in Wax Museum

As I close out one year in preparation of embracing a new year with all its unknown wonders, I embrace the goodness of one of the best experiences of my 2023 year. On Saturday 09 December 2023 many Baltimore City residents and myself had the pleasure to attend the 40th year celebration of The National Great Blacks in Wax Museum!  40 Years and Counting: A Legacy of Telling Our Stories Uncompromisingly; an award ceremony and fundraiser.

The museum is dedicated exclusively to examining and safeguarding Alkebulan (African) American history. Through life-size, realistic wax figures, it showcases both historical and present-day individuals of African descent.  The museum has attracted global visitors through its immersive exhibits such as "A Journey to Freedom," featuring wax figures of Henry “Box” Brown and W.E.B. DuBois; "The Underground Railroad," showcasing Thomas Garrett and Harriet Tubman; and "The Slavery Era," with the impactful "Middle Passage" and "The Horror of Captivity." The National Great Blacks in Wax Museum (NGBIWM) holds the distinction of being the nation's first wax museum dedicated to African American history founded on the truth our history and sustained by the love of our people for our people. 

The Uncompromising Truth Museum’s celebration was at the Wolfe Street’s Marriot Residence Inn’s Roof top restaurant and was served up in a delectable brunch style. There were many in attendance.  As a matter of fact, many more than who were expected.  So, here I was in a space filled with movers and shakers, current leaders and future leaders and change makers.  As I walked in and was greeted by familiar faces and new ones, I was struck with a sense of peace, joy, pride and of belonging. I belong here, we belong here, and the Museum belongs here. 

The National Great Blacks in Wax Museum’s storefront was opened by founders, the late Dr. Elmer Martin and Dr. Joanne M. Martin in 1983.  It was not without its struggles, its triumphs and a few funny happenstances along the way.  Dr. Elmer, explained by Dr. Joanne Martin, was pulled over by the Baltimore City police for having feet hanging out of his car! They were the feet of the wax figure of Frederick Douglass! I can image this was a relief for the police officers.  The NGBIWM museum’s original location from Saratoga Street was later moved to where it is today, on North Ave within the Historic Oliver Community in East Baltimore.  If you have not gone to visit the museum, you are selling yourself short on knowledge and truth.  Throughout its rich history, the museum has steadfastly presented the harsh realities faced by African Americans, avoiding any sugar-coating or dilution of these injustices. Simultaneously, it highlights stories of triumph, accomplishment, and success of African Americans then and now.

Co-founder, Dr. Joanne M. Martin reminiscing through 40 years

The 40-year celebration was a chance for us to, “pause to reflect on and pay homage to our ancestors, recognize their sacrifices, give gratitude to them and for their wisdom, and acknowledge their hope for those who follow them” stated Dr. Joanne M. Martin.  She added that we are to remember that one of those ancestors is the co-founder Dr. Elmer Martin. The presentation featured a screening of the PBS interview titled "Lead By Example" with Dr. Martin, provided an enjoyable viewing experience, view here.

The celebration included a recognition from the Baltimore City Mayor to Drs. Martin. NGBIWM had its own recognition of people whom are instrumental in the advancement of the museum at the 40th year celebration.  The awardees were a diverse group of change makers, activists and civil servants as law makers who have dedicated their time and efforts for visible and lasting change.  I couldn’t be prouder of the list of awardees than Dr. Martin was.  As she appreciated the awardees with their contributions to building our legacy and for supporting The National Great Blacks in Wax Museum she presented each with a splendid crystal award.   The Awardees included: Legacy Keeper Award, Eryn Naomi Reid and Xavier Reid; Freedom Bound Public Service Award, Senator Cory McCray; Freedom Bound Lift as We Climb Award, Dr. Tiffany Mfume; Freedom Bound Helping Tradition Award; “Dr. Mama” Deborah Pierce-Fakunle the Afropella Griot; Freedom Bound Community Activism Award, Dr. Marie J. Washington.  The awardees age ranges from teenagers to grandparents reminding me that we are all children of our ancestors and have the blessings and guidance of our ancestors to teach, direct and build legacies such as The National Great Blacks in Wax Museum for 40 years and beyond.

For me the 40th year celebration was more than just the years that the museum has been around and the truth it tells. For me, as a resident in the community where it is located it is a humble pride! We celebrated the museum’s upcoming growth to include the block expansion and new state of the art museum. An expansion allows us to share more about our people, our stories and our history being made now.  Also, the 40th year celebration included the love it was found on and grown with by Drs. Martin. The stories, as told by Dr. Joanne M. Martin about their love for each other and love for sharing our history and building legacy led us to this day.  A day of honour, a day of ancestral tribute, a day of recognition and uncompromisingly a day of celebrating truth telling.  The truth of our history and the truth about our stories, the truth about our people. As Dr. Martin continued about the museum’s legacy, again I was struck with an emotional sense of achievement, power, recognition and belonging. 

As the celebration began, contributing writer and community activist snapped a photo with (left) Baltimore City Mayor Brandon Scott, Senator Cory McCray and Baltimore Oliver Community Association Board Member

We have belonged to the land of our indigenous ancestors since 1526, when enslaved Africans were part of a Spanish expedition to establish an outpost on the North American coast in present-day South Carolina. We belong here now just as our history belonged there then.  Our stories belong here and must be truthfully told by us.  Drs. Martin’s love belongs in this story.  Their love for each other and their legacy as The National Great Blacks in Wax Museum belong here, with and for generations to come.


Be part of the growth of the NGBIWM museum for another 40 years and more by donating: 


Experience an uncompromising truth with a visit to the Museum at:

1601-03 East North Avenue, Baltimore, Maryland, 21213

Hours: Thurs–Sun 10 AM–4 PM

+1 (410)-563-3404 

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07 de jan.

Wow, this is truly amazing and inspiring. I am thankful to our ancestors and community leaders for this beautiful accomplishment. This is what we need to continue to share with our youth ! Loved the article !!



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