New era for Boston’s African American history museum
The Museum of African American History’s new leader is a Boston-area native.
Driving the news: Noelle Trent will take the helm of the museum in Boston and Nantucket as its president and CEO on June 12.
- She’s wrapping up a seven-year term as director of interpretation, collections and education at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis.
The big picture: The museum has preserved Boston’s abolitionist history and specifically the African Meeting House, where abolitionists like Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison spoke.
- Trent's new role comes as the museum prepares to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the African Meeting House in Nantucket (2025) and the 230th anniversary of the African Meeting House in Boston (2026).
- 2026 will also mark the 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.
State of play: The museum had shrunk its deficit and weathered the financial hardships of the COVID-19 pandemic under the leadership of Leon Wilson. But he left the museum last year in circumstances that shook advisers and former employers.
- Trent will draw on her experience at the National Civil Rights Museum, where she used interactive exhibits on current events to draw crowds.
Background: Trent was born and raised in the Boston area as her parents pursued their graduate studies.
- She’s a museum industry veteran who studied 19th century history. She wrote her dissertation on Frederick Douglass and American exceptionalism.
What she’s saying: “When you look at people coming through pushing for change, they’re not going to New York as a critical space in the abolition world. They’re going to Boston.
- “So to have the opportunity to work at a museum that has such a key role in how we think about this era of American history was very attractive to me.”
Details: One of the best-known exhibits Trent curated was “MLK50: A Legacy Remembered" at the National Civil Rights Museum, which reflected on King's legacy in the 50 years after his killing.
Trent also set up interactive “rapid-response exhibits” based on current events in Memphis.
- The “Stolen Lives” exhibit focused on gun violence. Visitors took index cards and wrote the names of people they had lost, dates or places and other details that reminded them of gun violence.
- The most recent exhibit gave tribute to Tyre Nichols, the 29-year-old Black man killed by Memphis police in January. The exhibit shared videos of Nichols skateboarding and displayed skateboards painted by local artists.
Museum officials say they have produced programs related to current events but that Trent will expand on those efforts.
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