Boise Places Worth Seeing

Idaho Black History Museum - Yes, We Have One

Julia Davis Park has a lot of popular attractions, but one that always seems to get overlooked is the Idaho Black History Museum. Now, I'll admit that if you're not a museum person and you don't like the nearby Idaho Historical Museum, the Black History Museum will remain at the bottom of your Boise sightseeing list, right above the Boise Carp Sanctuary. But if you're curious about what's inside and you set aside a half hour to visit, I don't think you'll come away disappointed.

Situated on the north side of Julia Davis Park near the Rose Garden, the zoo, and Abe the Ogre, The Idaho Black History Museum is housed in a small former Baptist church that is itself part of black history in Idaho. The building was formerly the meeting place of the St. Paul Baptist Church, and it was built in 1921 on Broadway Avenue just south of Warm Springs. According to the church, the building was constructed primarily by church founder Reverend William R. Hardy, whose carpentry skills served him well. Hardy's father-in-law and other local carpenters assisted in the process. It is certainly one of the first buildings built by black people in the state of Idaho.

After the St. Paul Baptist Church congregation moved to a new location at 14th and Bannock in 1993, they donated their old building to the Idaho Black History Museum non-profit corporation. In 1998, the building was moved from 108 South Broadway to its current location in Julia Davis Park, after which it was renovated so it could serve as a museum.

In addition to general exhibits that include references to slavery, Frederick Douglass, the Underground Railroad, Jim Crow, the Civil Rights Movement, and Martin Luther King, the museum contains a variety of historical pieces and other informative content specific to the state of Idaho. And you don't have to be a history buff to find some interesting stuff. The museum has plenty of material about contemporary African Americans who are still making their mark on the state. For example, look closely and you'll find an NFL game football that belonged to Cedric Minter, who followed up an outstanding career at BSU with professional stints with the CFL's Toronto Argonauts and the NFL's New York Jets. There is also material about Cherie Buckner-Webb, who in 2010 became the first African American to be elected to the Idaho State Legislature. Think about that. Idaho became a state in 1890, which means it only took 120 years for it to happen. My guess is that only Wyoming can beat that record. And just to get something straight, Cherie Buckner-Webb is NOT the estranged first wife of Bill Buckner.

By far the most eye catching and impressive pieces in the building are two large paintings by Idaho artist Pablo Rodriguez. The first piece is impossible to miss when you enter the museum. At the far end of the building, placed high on the wall, is an oversized and remarkably vivid painting of Martin Luther King, Jr. on a 6' by 4.5' canvass. It is in all aspects larger than life, and it's well worth a close inspection.

After viewing that painting, you can turn around and see the other, which stretches high across the front wall. This painting, named Slave to President, depicts the 400-year journey of black Americans from enslavement to President of the United States. Notable persons depicted include Booker T. Washington, Harriet Tubman, Thurgood Marshall, and, of course, Barack Obama. It took Rodriguez nine months to complete this painting, working late at night while his children slept.

The museum trip is worth it for these two paintings alone. I can't stress to you how much more impressive they are in person than in photographs. Go see them. Do it.

The Idaho Black History Museum is open on weekends from 11am to 4pm. If you have questions about anything, there's always a nice volunteer standing by ready to pass on some of his or her knowledge. Admission is free, but they do accept donations. So next time you're wandering aimlessly around the park on a lazy Sunday afternoon, drop by and see what's in there. You might be surprised by what you find.

Place worth seeing: Idaho Black History Museum
Where: 508 E Julia Davis Dr
Boise, ID 83702-7694
(in Julia Davis Park)

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Hours: Saturday and Sunday, 11am-4pm
Cost: Free; Donations accepted
Website: Idaho Black History Museum
Fun fact: There is no truth to the rumor that museum volunteers sometimes get so bored they play imaginary scrabble with the nearby Abe Lincoln statue.