top of page

Vilma Fields Leads a Tour Group in late 1980s

BESSIE-SMITH-HALL-1-300x300.jpg

Our Story

The Chattanooga African American Museum was founded in 1983 by ten empowering visionary leaders from Chattanooga: Roy Noel, Jacola Goodwin, Sallie Crenshaw, Agnes Locke, Leonard Wellington, Elizabeth Champion, Levi Moore, Rayburn Traughber, Catherine Kimble, and Rev. Williams Banks.

 

Located in an area once dubbed as the city’s black enterprise zone, (the famed 9th Street District) now known as M.L. King Boulevard, the museum’s original goal was to present the many contributions African Americans made to the development of Chattanooga. The rise in the number of African American Museums during the 1960’s paralleled the growth in African American studies throughout the nation. Both visions were attempts to compensate for the failure of the American education system to provide adequate inclusion and contributions of African Americans in American history and culture. In 1996, a newly renovated facility became the new home of the Chattanooga African American Museum and the Bessie Smith Hall. Located at 200 E. M. L. King Boulevard, the facility was established to pay homage to the late “Empress of the Blues”, Bessie Smith, through the establishment of a Performance Hall within the complex. The Bessie Smith Performance Hall has become well known in the Chattanooga community as an educational institution and spectacular venue to host performances, banquets, meetings and various community events.

 

What is now one organization began as two that were distinctly separate. Over the past several decades, the Bessie Smith Performance Hall developed a strong brand within the Chattanooga community. As a result of an extensive strategic planning process and to generate an overall awareness of what the one entity offers to Chattanooga, surrounding areas, and the southeastern region, the Chattanooga African American Museum/Bessie Smith Performance Hall was renamed the Bessie Smith Cultural Center (African American Museum & Performance Hall) in 2009. The center is affectionally referred to as “The Bessie.”

IMG_0170.jpg

Our Mission

The mission of the Bessie Smith Cultural Center is to preserve and celebrate African American History and Culture in Chattanooga through art, education, research and entertainment.

Staff Directory

Paula Wilkes

President

Marty Mitchell

Curator & Program Coordinator

Tyler Broome

Digital Media Specialist

Elijah Cameron

Director of Community Relations and Development

Danny Toney

Event & Facilities Coordinator

Board of Directors

Hakeem.webp

Yusuf Hakeem

 

Board Chairman

Palmer.jfif

Chris Palmer

Treasurer

Rector.jpg

Dr. Jeff Rector

Vice Chair

Appling.jpg

Elizabeth Appling

Secretary

Paula Wilkes Headshot.png

Paula Wilkes

 

Ex-Officio

Anthony.jpg

Ariel Anthony

Board Member

Not available.jpg

Beverly Clarke

Honorary Board Member

bernard harris.jpg

Bernard Harris

Board Member

Paula Headshots.png

Maurice Lewis

 

Board Member

Mathis.jpg

Tara Mathis

Board Member

payne.jpg

Mara-Lynne Payne

Board Member

Smith.png

Avery Smith

Board Member

364168881_10224229936441660_311382376401782888_n.jpg

Varion Walton

Board Member

BobCulkeen_Headshot_102523.jpg

Bob Culkeen

Board Member

Not available.jpg

Duke Franklin

Board Member

Goldberg-Brent.jpg

Brent Goldberg

Board Member

J.W. Cole .jpg

J.W. Cole

Board Member

Not available.jpg

Wayne Johnson

Board Member

Hayslett2.JPG

Yolonda Hayslett

Board Member

bottom of page