In 2016, the Texas African American Museum was co-founded by Gloria Washington and Clarence Shackleford. Washington felt compelled by a desire to not only preserve African American history but to provide a place for outreach, where African American history would be celebrated more often than just February each year. Shackleford agreed, acknowledging that he had not previously seen any cultural memorabilia to remind him of his ancestors, and was inspired to do so.
As a branch of the Empowerment Community Development Corporation, a Tyler-based non-profit devoted to education, preservation, and supporting minority-owned small businesses of which both were board members, the museum began operation. In the context of the heightened racial tensions surrounding the United States Presidential election of 2016, and the events that followed during the ensuing Trump administration, the Texas African American Museum began work on developing and collecting exhibits with Washington serving as curator and executive director.
The Museum open to the public in January of 2021, for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, with exhibits that included works photographs of President Abraham Lincoln with the Emancipation Proclamation, and works by Barack and Michelle Obama, the former United States President and First Lady, and first of African-American heritage.
Already serving as a bastion for local, state, and national African American history, those involved with the project had visions of incorporating international perspectives as well. From humble beginnings and a virtual presence to a larger role in the Tyler community and a permanent home, the Texas African American Museum and the individuals who established it and maintain it are still working to preserve important historical stories for future generations.