Calvin Riley used to be an English teacher in St. Louis. The he retired and bought he bought a vacant building and converted it into the “George B. Vashon African American Museum”, named for the famous Black scholar who graduated from Oberlin College and taught at Howard University.
Riley’s idea behind the museum was to preserve items of historical significance to the St. Louis African-American community. It includes items such as old photographs of African Americans, vintage clothing worn by African American workers and old items made by black craftsmen dating back to the when there were still slaves in America.
Riley also included a tribute to African American educator and scientist Lincoln Diuguid, who started the Du-Good chemical company and taught Riley at the Harris Stowe Teachers College. The items that Riley has on display were either found or donated by people who were simply storing the items in their attics or basements without actually using them at home.
Riley’s collection includes memorabilia from the 1960’s civil rights movement and items from black social clubs. Moreover, Riley’s goal with the collection is not only to portray the African American community’s struggle for civil rights and social justice, but also to portray the African American community simply as everyday people, working as hospital employees, tradesmen and artists.
Even though Riley is retired, he puts as much work into the museum as it would take to have a fulltime job. However, Riley is full of enthusiasm for keeping the museum open to visitors, and helping to curate and expand the museum’s collection.