Dr. Charles Smith’s African-American Heritage Museum and Black Veterans Archives

709 E. Louisiana Ave
Hammond, LA
Built: 1986 – 2001 (Aurora, IL)
2002 – Current (Hammond, LA)

In 2000, when heading to New Orleans for his home in Aurora, IL, Vietnam veteran Dr. Charles Smith stopped in Hammond, LA for a meal. He discovered a historical marker under a large oak, reading:

“Peter Hammond (1798 – 1870) Under this oak is buried Peter Hammond, of Sweden, who founded Hammond, La., about 1818. Nearby are the graves of his wife, three daughters and a favorite slave boy.”

Beneath the marker is the simple granite monument, UNNAMED SLAVE BOY.

Shocked and outraged by the anonymity of “favorite slave boy,” Dr. Smith contacted officials and researched the library for clues to the identity of the unidentified slave, to no avail. He realized that this would be just the place to begin his second African American Heritage Museum and Black Veterans Archive, where he could educate today’s generation of black youths, who seem uninterested.

Dr. Charles Smith’s Folk Art Emporium of Black History

In 2002, Dr. Smith bought a small home in Hammond, and continues to spread his message of remembrance, hope, and vision. His home environment is dedicated to the turbulent history of African-Americans, as he hopes to inspire and educate today’s youth, so that they will never forget, and build upon the vision set forth by leaders and martyrs of Black America: Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Emmett Till, and Martin Luther King among them. In addition, there are memorials to the 4,000 Black Americans who died in Vietnam, to victims of the Rwanda tragedy, as well as to whites that helped with the Underground Railroad.

In 1986, in the yard of his small home on the east side of Aurora, Dr. Charles Smith began building his vision: a sculptural monument dedicated to the contributions and experiences of African-Americans. Before his vision, Dr. Smith had felt lost in pain and anger. Then he received his inspiration: “God told me, ‘Use Art – I give you a weapon’, just like He gave Dr. King the Gandhi strategy.” From that moment on and despite the fact that he had never received training in art, his house lot started to fill with sculpted tributes to those leaders.

As scholar Lisa Stone writes, “The African-American Heritage Museum and Black Veterans Archives is equal parts memorial and mirror, commemorating and reflecting the complexity of late 20th Century life, and its elaborate, and at times bewildering, commingled histories.”