On this day in 1930, James Cameron founded the Black Holocaust Museum. James Cameron was an American civil rights activist. In the 1940’s, he established three chapters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He also served as Indiana’s State Director of the Office of Civil Liberties from 1942 to 1950.
In the 1950’s, he moved with his family to Wisconsin, where he continued as an activist and started speaking on African-American history.
In 1988, he founded America’s Black Holocaust Museum in Milwaukee, devoted to African-American history from slavery to the present.
By the early 1950’s, the emotional toll of threats led Cameron to search for a safer home for his wife and five children. Planning to move to Canada, they decided on Milwaukee after he found work there. There Cameron continued his work in civil rights by assisting in protests to end segregated housing in the city. He also participated in both marches on Washington in the 1960s, the first with Martin Luther King, Jr., and the second with King’s widow, Coretta, along with Jesse Jackson.
Cameron studied history on his own and lectured on the African-American experience. From 1955 to 1989 he published hundreds of articles and booklets detailing civil rights and occurrences of racial injustices, including “What is Equality in American Life?”; “The Lingering Problem of Reconstruction in American Life: Black Suffrage”; and “The Second Civil Rights Bill.” In 1982 he published his memoir, A Time of Terror: A Survivor’s Story.
After being inspired by a visit with his wife to the Yad Vashem memorial in Israel, Cameron founded America’s Black Holocaust Museum in 1988. He used material from his collections to document the struggles of African Americans in the United States, from slavery through lynching, and the 20th-century civil rights movement. When he first started collecting materials about slavery, he kept it in his basement. Working with others to build support for the museum, he was aided by philanthropist Daniel Bader.
The museum started as a grassroots effort and became one of the largest African-American institutions in the country. In 2008, the museum closed because of financial problems. It reopened on Cameron’s birthday, February 25, 2012, as a virtual museum.
At his death, Cameron was the only known survivor of a lynching attempt at age 16, when he was for the murder of a young white man, Claude Deeter, during an armed robbery attempt, and with the rape of his girlfriend (the latter charge was dropped). In 1991, Cameron was pardoned by the state of Indiana.