America’s Black Holocaust Museum rising through art, $1.12M investment

As the curtain around the tall, thin, bronze figure known as BAM (Seated Warrior), 2017 parted, a joyous applause erupted among a gathered community who recognized the significance of this moment in the revival of America’s Black Holocaust Museum (ABHM).

ABHM received the signature work of art and more than $1 million in funding through the Greater Milwaukee Foundation and its donors, helping celebrate and ensure the sustainability of the culturally essential museum as it nears its re-opening. 

IN THE MEDIA: America's Black Holocaust Museum unveils new piece of art (WISN12)

ABHM unveiled BAM (Seated Warrior) at a special event on Jan. 24. Created by acclaimed artist Sanford Biggers, the sculpture is a gift of the Foundation to ABHM on behalf of an anonymous donor. The piece was acquired from Sculpture Milwaukee, where it was on public display throughout the summer of 2018, and now will take permanent residence at the museum. 

The major philanthropic investment further consisted of a $1 million grant to ABHM from the Foundation on behalf of an anonymous donor and an additional three-year, $120,000 grant awarded through the Foundation’s responsive grantmaking program. This funding will contribute to the ongoing development and support of ABHM as it builds staff capacity and programming. 

“At a time of hyperpolarization and growing distrust of cultures unfamiliar, we are in dire need of safe spaces and opportunities created to bring us together to explore difficult issues, to learn, to celebrate our commonalities,” said Dr. Robert (Bert) Davis, president and CEO of ABHM. “The reemergence of the museum is critical for a time such as this, and I am honored and humbled to continue the work and the legacy of our founder, Dr. James Cameron.” 

IN THE MEDIA: America's Black Holocaust Museum continues James Cameron’s legacy and receives $1 million donation and statue (Carvd N Stone)

ABHM is dedicated to the legacy of Dr. Cameron, one of few known survivors of a lynching in American history. He founded ABHM to explore under-told stories of the African American experience and the harmful legacy of slavery as well as to promote racial repair, reconciliation and healing. After closing its doors in 2008, the museum continued its education of others by launching a virtual museum in 2012 ( The museum is now on the verge of reopening as a physical space on the very footprint of its predecessor at the corner of Vel R. Phillips and North avenues. 

“In a community striving to advance racial equity, and needing to acknowledge the pain and injustice of segregation and racism, ABHM offers an important space for learning, healing and problem-solving,” said Ellen Gilligan, president and CEO of the Foundation. “Marshaling resources to support the mission, cultural connections and awareness of ABHM through philanthropy is right where the Foundation belongs.” 

For 20 years, ABHM served as a cultural cornerstone and educational institution welcoming local, national and international visitors of all backgrounds to the city of Milwaukee. Its physical return to Bronzeville celebrates the neighborhood’s history and encourages efforts to develop the Bronzeville Cultural and Entertainment District. In addition to filling the traditional role of a museum, ABHM intends to be a creative collaborator and gathering place for community, art and culture. By adding to the assets of the surrounding neighborhoods, the museum strives to be a symbol of hope and renewal.

IN THE MEDIA: America's Black Holocaust Museum hopes to reopen its doors this year (Wisconsin Public Radio)

Born in Los Angeles and based in New York, Biggers has shown his art across the country and globe. He uses sculpture, painting, photography, textiles, film, installation and performance to create multifaceted works that collaborate with the past to help people understand the present.

For BAM (Seated Warrior), he cast a marked and mutilated African “power” figure in bronze, expanding its size to both hide and exaggerate the violence done to the original. Biggers, who describes this particular sculpture as the “matron saint” of other works in his BAM series, said her return to Milwaukee is ideal.

“It’s in fact as if she has come home,” he said. “So I’m very pleased that she is here with a community that already understands her significance and will promulgate that into the future.”

During Sculpture Milwaukee, the piece was on exhibition at 500 E. Wisconsin Ave., near the Milwaukee Club. 

“Sculpture Milwaukee and America’s Black Holocaust Museum are both part of the cultural fabric of Milwaukee, inviting community members to constantly reexamine their environment,” said Brian Schupper, executive director of Sculpture Milwaukee, an urban public art exhibition perched on the shores of Lake Michigan and extending into the heart of downtown. “We are thrilled to see this intersection manifested with a new permanent home for BAM (Seated Warrior) at ABHM. We look forward to seeing it alongside other powerful exhibits, collectively inviting visitors into a deeper story they may not have otherwise engaged in.”

IN THE MEDIA: “Seated Warrior” sculpture by artist Sanford Biggers makes new home at America’s Black Holocaust Museum (Milwaukee Independent)