The Amherstburg Freedom Museum, previously known as ‘the North American Black Historical Museum’, is located in Amherstburg, Ontario, Canada. It is a community-based, non-profit museum that tells the story of African-Canadians’ history and contributions. Founded in 1975 by local residents of Amherstburg, it preserves, presents artifacts and tells the story of African-Canadians’ journey and contributions, by preserving and presenting artifacts that educate and inspire.
The location of the Museum is key; Amherstburg meant freedom, as the Canadian destination for many Freedom Seekers escaping slavery in the United States. Also included in the museum complex are Nazrey A.M.E. Church – national historic site and stop on the Underground Railroad, and the Taylor Log Cabin – home of George Taylor a formerly enslaved man and his family.
Founded by Betty and Melvin “Mac” Simpson, the museum was officially incorporated in 1975. It was their vision to promote the rich heritage of African Canadians, many of whose ancestors had come as refugees from enslavement in the United States. In 2015, the North American Black Historical Museum celebrated its 40th anniversary, and changed its name to the Amherstburg Freedom Museum, to emphasize its connection to people seeking freedom.
In addition to sharing Amherstburg’s stories of the Underground Railroad, and the compassion and solidarity it took to make this network possible, the Amherstburg Freedom museum collects, protects, interprets, researches, educates and exhibits a collection of artifacts of historical and cultural value.
The Amherstburg Freedom Museum is focused on providing educational programming to young children and adults alike, in an effort to deliver programming that is beneficial to the advancement of education. The museum is strengthened by its core educational programming, which is offered year-round, and assists in providing a greater understanding of African Canadian and Underground Railroad history.
All educational programs are informative and interactive, and approximately 90 minutes in length, which connect heritage and cultural life in Essex County. Programs include a guided tour of both historic buildings, an interactive scavenger hunt for students, and a 20-minute video which is also available in French, and subtitles for the hearing impaired.
The museum offers both guided and self-guided tours for walk-in visitors and tour groups on the topics of African Canadian history and the Underground Railroad, including the Museum’s permanent exhibit, the Nazrey African Methodist Episcopal Church (a National Historic Site), and the Taylor Log Cabin.
Presentations on the topics of African Canadian history and the Underground Railroad are offered to groups, schools, clubs, societies, retirement homes and other non-profit community organizations.
The museum holds several annual events featuring cultural programming, including Ribs & Ragtime, Emancipation Celebrations, Black History Month programming, and Christmas at the Museum.
The museum offers other special events and programming. The museum has previously held book signings, conferences, festivals, museum milestone celebrations etc. For example, in October of 2017 we hosted the Amherstburg Freedom Summit which welcomed high school students from throughout Essex County. It was at the Summit that students from minority groups discussed not only the issues that affect them on a daily basis, but also how to create solutions to these challenges.
A prevailing suggestion was a mentorship program and speaker series, which is why we have created the Freedom Achievers Program in 2019. Our initiative includes a mentoring program that recruits successful achievers as mentors in professional fields such as First Responders, S.T.E.M., Arts & Entertainment, Education, Legal, Medical, Business & Finance. The mentoring sessions will provide insight into career options and actively engage with mentees. We are also hosting a High-Profile Speakers Series called “Achieving Freedom in the 21st Century” that welcomes diverse high-profile community builders to discuss the challenges they faced and how they challenged issues such as racism, gender inequality and homophobia to create positive change.
The museum offers staff conducted and self-conducted research and genealogy. The museum fields many requests from around North America, which has been aided by the recent digitization of some of the museums archival collection.
Research is also conducted on an on-going basis by museum staff to present local family genealogies, and other local history that is made available on the museums webpage and shared on museum social media channels.
The Mac Simpson Award is an Annual award given to at least one student of African descent who is currently attending a secondary school institution in the Essex County area and enrolled in a post-secondary program. It is given to honour the memory of Melvin “Mac” Simpson, the founder of The North American Black Historical Museum & Cultural Centre Inc. and to recognize his dedication to education and commitment to the community.
In 2019 the museum introduced the Legacy Hero Award, which is given posthumously to honor community builders from the Black community in Windsor/Essex County.
The Talking Drum is our monthly newsletter which features news on the Museum and articles on Black history, and is available for free on the museum’s website.