This story appeared in the April issue of PRC’s Preservation in Print magazine. Interested in getting more preservation stories like this delivered to your door nine times a year? Become a member of the PRC for a subscription!
by Nicole Hobson-Morris, Executive Director of the Louisiana Division of Historic Preservation
Located in the Donaldsonville National Register Historic District, the River Road African American Museum (RRAAM) is the longest-standing African American non-profit organization in the River Parishes, having recently celebrated its 27th year in operation, according to its founder Kathe Hambrick. The museum honors the past through education and revitalization efforts, and its artifacts, slave inventories and other resources are emotionally compelling and highly educational.
Hambrick, along with the museum’s board of directors, educates all ages about the history and journey of enslaved Africans and African Americans in the rural parishes across southern Louisiana. “Exhibits reflect the fortitude and achievements birthed by a generation of artists, educators, physicians, craftsmen, politicians, inventors and musicians,” according to the museum’s website.
Sankofa is exemplified in the museum’s mission to keep the history of African Americans in the region alive. The museum complex includes a Rosenwald School for Education and Culture, which was rescued from the community of Convent; the creation of a Freedom Garden established more than 10 years ago to educate visitors about edible and medicinal plants that would have been found along Louisiana’s Underground Railroad; and the True Friends Benevolent Association Hall, which was constructed in 1886 to serve as a social gathering space for African Americans and a source of medical and financial assistance to poor and working-class members in the African American community.
Sankofa is an African word from the Akan tribe in Ghana. The literal translation of the word and symbol is “it is not taboo to fetch what is at risk of being left behind.”
The museum continues to maintain the hall while raising money for its full rehabilitation and program administration. The building is “the largest and oldest existing benevolent society hall remaining in Louisiana,” according to a recent article in the Donaldsonville Chief.
As part of its Day of Service in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Eskew Dumez Ripple, a New Orleans architectural and design firm, recently visited Donaldsonville, met with the museum’s leaders to assess the condition of the True Friends Hall and discussed how the building could be put to future use. According to the Donaldsonville Chief article, Eskew Dumez Ripple then created floor plans and renderings to help the museum with its planning and fundraising. Read the full article here: https://tinyurl.com/57aa76tf.
For more information on the River Road African American Museum, visit africanamericanmuseum.org/museum
Above image: Constructed in 1886, the True Friends Benevolent Association Hall is located at 711 Lessard St. in Donaldsonville. The River Road African American Museum is raising money to rehabilitate this historic building. Photo courtesy of the Louisiana Division of Historic Preservation.