AAAM was established to provide professional development and networking opportunities to serve its membership base and African American and African diaspora audiences broadly. The Association has a longstanding success rate of convening leadership from national and international around issues of professional development and capacity building for 40 consecutive years, boasting a membership of nearly 500 individual and institutional members rallying around this worthy cause.
In the late 1960s, Dr. Margaret Burroughs, founder of the DuSable Museum in Chicago, and Dr. Charles H. Wright, of the Museum of African American History in Detroit, initiated a series of conferences for Black museums. The National Association of Museums and Cultural Organizations and the Black Museums Conference, the first informal Black museum association, evolved from these conferences. In 1978, a consortium of six Black museums, with funding from the National Museum Act (administered by the Smithsonian Institution), presented a series of conferences at participating institutions. The conferences provided the opportunity for an ad hoc committee to lay the groundwork for yet another organization. Under the chairmanship of E. Barry Gaither, the committee prepared by-laws, which were ratified in Detroit in February of 1978. The new organization adopted the name "African American Museums Association" (AAMA), and elected its first governing council. AAMA's first office was at the Museum of the National Center for Afro-American Artists in Boston, Massachusetts.
During the General Session of the 1997 AAMA Annual Conference in Baltimore, Maryland, the members present voted to change the name to "Association of African American Museums," dissolving the former name of AAMA. Reorganized as the Association of African American Museums (AAAM) in 1998, the organization continued servicing constituents with annual conferences and fellowship opportunities. Under the leadership of a dedicated volunteer executive director, AAAM relocated to the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center in Ohio and expanded its operations to serve the burgeoning number of new institutions focused on African American content. During this period, the organization set out to provide improved communication (including a website and newsletter), shared resources, professional training, and technical assistance.
In the 2000s and beyond, the Association has focused on identifying the composition and needs of its constituents and the larger African American museum community, aided by the support of the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) on a number of projects to survey the field and implement strategic planning processes for the Association. Continuing its core work and collaborating with the new National Museum of African American History and Culture, AAAM looks forward to future success in furthering and implementing the important work of the organizations and professionals dedicated to preserving and promoting the art, history, and culture of African and African American communities nationally and internationally.