Founded in 1965 in the offices of civil rights activist and Black obstetrician Charles H. Wright, the museum includes 30,000 items, including letters of Malcolm X and Rosa Parks, several prototypes of inventions, like the stoplight and gas mask, created by African American scientists, and a special collection of documents related to the Underground Railroad.
While rich in history, none of the museum’s items hold enough monetary value to help significantly reduce the city’s overwhelming debt.
“If you say you’re in such dire straits that we may not survive, the people who give you money will say, ‘Let’s put money somewhere else,’” Detroit Free Press columnist Rochelle Riley told Al Jazeera. “But you can’t not be realistic…Unlike with the DIA, there aren’t a lot of deep pockets.”
In her recent columns on the Wright’s current struggles, Riley has also sparked much of the initial debate on who the museum ought to rely on for salvation and who should be held accountable.
“If those of us of all colors and backgrounds who value the museum don’t fight for it, why should any foundation write a check?” wrote Riley, pointing to the sweeping influence that one local millionaire’s donation to the DIA had on 130 other individuals who subsequently donated funds.
“All it takes is one person to step up, and others to echo that call with their actions and words. That might be what leads foundations and leaders — and perhaps the governor — to believe that something is worthwhile.”