African Diaspora Museum opens eyes

SAN FRANCISCO — Although I was visiting here for four days, for three hours of the trip I was transported to a different space and time.

I went to a place that seemed so far away, in distance and mind, but I actually felt oddly like I was home. It connected me to the human race in such a way that I never had been connected before.

This unique place was the Museum of African Diaspora downtown and, upon entry, I was confronted with a mirror and the question, “When did you discover you were African?”

The Museum of African Diaspora, located on Market Street and Third in the San Francisco Arts District, educates visitors about the the cradle of mankind, Africa (Photo courtesy of MoAD).

I thought to myself, “I’m NOT African. Maybe this museum was made as a tribute to African Americans or something.”

But since I already paid my $5 admission fee and was wrought with curiosity, I continued on my journey.

The far wall on the first floor of the three-story building on Market Street answered my question in a simple way. It was a huge map that took up the entire width and height of the wall with light bulbs that would light up with passing time. The more time passed, the more lights would illuminate, starting in southeast Africa, sometimes known as the “Cradle of Civilization.”

With every passing second this light bulb, which signifies the progression of the movement of the human race, the wall became more and more illuminated. In a few seconds, the “Africans” made it to where my family originates, Italy.

I continued up the staircase, which was the first stop on the wide array of multimedia that the museum had to offer. It was a visual tribute to the African Diaspora.

Hundreds of pictures of people with every skin tone lined the wall, with hidden speakers playing different types of African music. The 2,000 pictures also had varying qualities, and featured everything from pictures of slaves picking cotton to African mothers holding their babies on their backs. The pictures were submitted by people who had come across these pictures and donated them to the museum.

Pictures that illustrate the African Diaspora were donated to the museum and now cover a wall inside the museum (Photo courtesy of MoAD).

The next stop was in the room was a tribute to how many things in contemporary American life are derived from Africa. One exhibit, entitled, “Adornment,” was particularly interesting. The exhibit compares how we would wear certain items of clothing today— our shirts, our jewelry, our shoes— to how they are worn in Africa and how they’ve been worn in our past.

Three figures— one to represent women, one to represent men, and one to represent children— stood against the wall, with a television for the head with a morphing character, such as a black man wearing a baseball cap which turns into a tribal headdress. The body consisted of pictures of traditional African garb from all different parts of Africa.

“The patterns of clothing and textures of clothing convey many meanings in traditional African societies. Following the long repression of such dress during slavery and the economic subjugations that continued after it, expressive styles of clothing again vividly proclaim one’s individuality and heritage,” a statement painted on the wall told visitors.

In the same room, there was a wall and computer screens dedicated to African music and its effect on the world. Jazz was credited to such memorable musicians as Louis Armstrong, who was a descendent of slaves. The same wall talked about the African-American influence on the American vernacular.

The next stop on the journey was to a dark circular room entitled “Slave Narratives.” After walking through the curtain you hear the voices of actors portraying real enslaved people from all over the world.

One of the slaves featured was a man named Mahommah Gardo Baquaqua, who was born in modern-day Benin in the 1820s. He was taken to Recife, Brazil, and enslaved there for years, before his master brought him to New York, where Baquaqua was able to escape to Boston. He eventually went to Haiti, which was a free black nation at the time. He later returned to New York and received an education and wrote a biography, which was used in the creation of his narrative.

Baquaqua described a particular brutal beating given to him by his master.

“He…required me to make submission and beg for mercy, but that I would not do. I told him to kill me if he pleased, but for mercy at his hands I would not cry! I also told him that…when I looked upon my lacerated bleeding body, I reflected that though it was bruised and torn, my heart was not subdued.”

After this room, I continued to an interesting part of the museum that was a traveling exhibition, entitled “”

The MOAD’s gift shop and Diaspora Wall (Photo courtesy of MoAD).

“The room is a demonstration of how technology is taking over Africa as it is for the rest of the world, “ Ave Montague, media contact for MOAD, said.

Featured there were robes with pictures of cell phones and computers, which some people in Africa today wear to display their increasing interest in communication technology. If an item of clothing wasn’t enough to display their interest, a coffin in the shape of a cell phone was actually on display.

Upon the end of my journey, I stopped at the bookstore, which sells books, literature and garments that are all considered by the museum to be “fair-trade.”

John Riley, director of Retail and Visitors Services, said, “the idea is that we sell things that give back to the farmers and people who provide them.”

Montague said that the store is one of her favorite things about the museum and often indulges in the treats the store has to offer.

The MOAD really opened up a dialogue within me about the state of Africa and how we all owe something to it, because it is where our ancestors derive from. No matter how many hundreds of generations have passed since our families left Africa, we still are from there.

After leaving, I was able to answer the question, “When did you realize you were African?” I realized it once I entered the Museum of African Diaspora.

I am African—we all are. I’ve just been gone for too long.


If You Go

  • The museum is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays and 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays. The Heritage Center and Education Center are only open 1 to 4 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays.
  • Admission for adults is $10, for students and seniors over the age of 65 it’s $5, and for members and children 12 and under, admission is free.
  • The Museum of African Diaspora is located at 685 Mission St. (at Third) San Francisco, California 94105.
  • They can be reached by phone at 415-358-7200 or by fax at 415-358-7252.
  • Parking is available at the meters on the streets.

Directions on public transportation

  • Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART),, tel: 415-989-2278, TDD: 510-839-2278, exit on Montgomery Street Station or Powell Street Station, walk towards Mission and Third Street
  • MUNI,, tel: 415-673-6864, TTY: 415-923-6373, Bus Lines: #14 Mission, #15 Third, #30 Stockton, and #45 Union stop either on Mission or Third Street. Metro lines: Take J-Church, K-Ingleside, L-Taraval, M-Oceanview or N-Judah. Exit Montgomery Street or Powell Street Stations walk towards Mission and Third Street.
  • A/C Transit,, tel: 510-817-1717, Buses leave from Transbay Terminal at First and Mission Streets to and from Alameda/Countra Costa County
  • Goldengate Transit.,, tel: 415-455-2000, TDD: 711 or California Relay, #10, #20, #50, #60, #70, and #80 stop on Mission and 3rd Street in front of Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.
  • Samtrans,, tel: 800-660-4287, hearing impaired: 650-508-6448, Buses leave from Transbay Terminal at First and Mission Streets to and from San Mateo County.
  • Caltrain,, tel: 800-660-4287, hearing impaired: 650-508-6448, from the Station at Fourth and Townsend Streets, transfer to N-Judah Muni Metro Line, then exit Montgomery Station or Powell Street Station, walk towards Mission and 3rd Street.

Directions by car

  • from the North Bay, take Highway 101 to Lombard Street. Follow Lombard to Van Ness Avenue and turn right; follow Van Ness until you reach Golden Gate Avenue and turn left. Follow Golden Gate as it crosses Market Street onto Sixth Street. Turn left from Sixth Street onto Folsom Street and follow Folsom up to Third Street; turn left onto Third Street.
  • from the East Bay, take Interstate 80 and exit at Fremont Street. Take an immediate left from Fremont onto Howard Street and get into the right lane. Go two blocks and turn right onto Third Street.

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