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5 things you’ll find at the Finding Our Roots African American Museum

5 things you’ll find at the Finding Our Roots African American Museum

Since opening in February of 2017, the Finding Our Roots African American Museum has amassed an impressive collection of artifacts and documents related to the African-American experience down through the centuries. Located at 918 Roussell St. in Houma, the museum has already attracted visitors from around the country and from as far away as Australia. It is open from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and group tours are available by appointment. For information, call the museum at 262-0407. Here are five things of historical interest that you can find on an impromptu visit to the museum. 1. The Building Itself: The museum occupies the space of the Fifth District Academy, which was the first school for black students in Terrebonne Parish. The interior is largely intact, with different exhibits arranged in what used to be the separate classrooms. On display in the lobby is part of the cornerstone for another early black school, the Houma Academy, built in the 1890s. 2. Gerald “Coke” Riley: Houma native, inventor and hairdresser to the stars Gerald Riley turned a job shining shoes at a local barber shop into a lucrative career when he designed a type of curling iron that became standard equipment in the industry. Several of the original production run of his “CoCo Styling Irons” are on display at the museum. Riley also worked in Hollywood, styling hair for such movies as “Amistad,” “Missing Pieces” with James Coburn, “Forget Paris” with Billy Crystal and Debra Winger and “Purgatory” with Sam Shepard and Eric Roberts. He was nominated for Best Period Hair Styling – Television Miniseries at the Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists Guild Awards for “Purgatory.” 3. Israelite Baptist Church: One of the original churches of African-American worshippers, the first Israelite Baptist Church was built in the middle of a sugar-cane field on the Valentine Plantation. A scale model of the church is on display in one of the old classrooms, devoted to the history of religious activity in the African-American community. The church is still active today. 4. Marcus Christian: Writer and historian Marcus Christian was born in Houma in 1900 and went on to earn acclaim as the unofficial Poet Laureate of the New Orleans African-American community. Christian was the head of the “Colored Project,” part of the New Deal Federal Writers’ Project at Dillard University. His first book of poetry was published in 1922, and he was a contributor to newspapers across the country. His published historical works include “Negro Ironworkers of Louisiana, 1718-1900″ and “Battle of New Orleans: From the Deep South.” 5. Echo Circle: Represented at the museum by a circle of chairs around a washtub, the story of the Echo Circle is a powerful one. Slaves would gather in a circle singing religious songs surrounding a body of water. Certain songs were used as signals when slave-owners and their overseers were observing the singing to those slaves preparing to flee their captivity. The gatherings took place near ponds or other bodies of water that would echo and amplify the sound to send the escape signal further. Staff Writer Scott Yoshonis can be reached at 850-1148 or syoshonis@houmatoday.com . Follow him on Twitter @Foster_Cajun .

5 things you’ll find at the Finding Our Roots African American Museum

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