the invisible Idahoan

    Black History Museum shares a vital part of our past

    by Rachel Holt

    photography by Pete Grady 

    Who is York?

    If you answered an African American man who was William Clark’s slave and scout for the Lewis and Clark exhibition you’d be correct. But did you know that it is said he was the first person to set foot in present day Idaho? You would if you’d been to the Idaho Black History Museum in Boise.

    The Idaho Black History Museum is located in Julia Davis Park in the former St. Paul Baptist Church building. Although built in 1921, St. Paul was one of two African American churches founded by Boiseans in 1908. In 1993 the congregation moved to a new building and St. Paul’s was donated to a preservation committee. The museum was established in 1995 but St. Paul’s didn’t find its current location until 1998 when it was moved to Julia Davis Park. A year later the Idaho Black History Museum had its grand opening.

    “In addition to the exhibits, the Idaho Black History Museum has a number of items available for sale including a cookbook called ‘Savory and Sizzling’” 

    The museum’s permanent exhibit “The Invisible Idahoan” features over 200 years of history and stories of blacks in Idaho. Broken into 3 time periods the permanent collection includes information dating back to some of Idaho’s earliest history with York and the Lewis and Clark Discovery Expedition. The first part, “Black Pioneers,” covers 1805-1919 and talks about early settlers and the introduction and impact of the railroad on the community. This portion of the exhibit also covers the history of St. Paul’s Baptist Church and its roots to the Boise African American community.

    The second part, “The Black Idahoan in Transition,” covers 1920-1968. This portion of the exhibit discusses how Black Idahoans, have since the civil war, contributed to the U.S.’s war efforts.

    Freestyle-2The third part, “The Enduring Presence and Contributions of Black Idahoans,” covers 1969 – present day. This part of the exhibit looks at how African Americans have contributed to Idaho’s culture; from jazz musician Gene Harris to Cherie Buckner Webb, Idaho’s first elected African American legislator to Dorothy Johnson, Miss Idaho USA 1964 who went on to be a semi-finalist in that year’s Miss USA pageant.

    The museum also includes a rotating exhibit which features different aspects of African American history. This exhibit is currently: The 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, created by Bishop

    Kelly High Students. Past exhibits have included a variety of topics including masks of Africa, blacks in the military and black patent holders.

    In addition to the exhibits, the Idaho Black History Museum has a number
    of items available for sale including a cookbook called “Savory and Sizzling” which brings together a variety of recipes provided by members and friends of the museum and include historic photos and narratives of the Boise.

    The museum is well worth a visit. There is always something interesting to learn about Idaho’s history and the contribution of African Americans to the great landscape and culture of our community.

    The Idaho Black History Museum is open year round, Saturdays and Sundays from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm and admission is Free. For more information about the museum or to volunteer, visit their website at: 






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