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(Restricted Gift: THE LEGACY MUSEUM)

The Sankofa Bird

COVID-19 Update: 

Unfortunately, We are NOT doing large groups in the museum. You must have an appointment to get inside the museum. Also, most of the tours will be self-guided as a safety precaution. We are also offering virtual tours of the museum using Zoom and our LIBGUIDE. Please contact us for any questions or concerns.

The Legacy Museum

THE SANKOFA BIRD (mythology from the Akan people of West Africa) Dahomean cloth appliqué Fon People-Republic of Benin (formerly Dahomey) - West Africa Tuskegee University Library Services The Lovette W. Harper Collection of African Art.  >>>

About the Legacy Museum

Welcome to the Legacy Museum at Tuskegee University 

The LEGACY MUSEUM is part of a consortium of museums at Tuskegee University that includes the Dr. George Washington Carver Museum, The Booker T. Washington Home-The Oaks and the Tuskegee Airmen Museum. the LEGACY MUSEUM exhibits works from its art collection and interprets, additionally, public health, science and medicine. The Museum's exhibitions and programs reach international audiences and history buffs and art enthusiasts of all ages.

Located in the National Center for Bioethics in Research and Health Care/ John A. Kenney Hall, The LEGACY MUSEUM is an outgrowth of the Official Proclamation by President William Jefferson Clinton against the misdeeds of the United States Public Health Service in its Untreated Syphilis Study in the Negro Male in Macon County, Alabama, 1932-1972.

On the third floor of the museum are two permanent exhibits. The Patient, The Project, The Partnership: The Mass Production and Distribution of HeLa cells at Tuskegee University and the United States Public Health Service Untreated Syphilis Study in the Negro Male, 1932-1972.

From left to right: Dr. Russell Brown, Ms. Henrietta Lacks and Dr. James H.M. Henderson 

The HeLa Cell exhibit celebrates the life of the Virginia born Henrietta Lacks, who was a tobacco farmer who suffered from an aggressive form of cervical cancer which landed her at Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore, MD. Her cells, harvested without her knowledge or that of her family, were discovered to possess the unique characteristics of growing and reproducing beyond measure. HeLa’s growth characteristics made it the ideal alternative primate host cell source for the massive testing of Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine. Tuskegee University’s Carver Foundation was one of the sites selected to mass produce the cell line and distribute it to laboratories worldwide for polio vaccine testing and a variety of research projects from which we all benefit today.

A suggested donation to the LEGACY MUSEUM is appreciated and there are brochures, posters, tee-shirts, and other LEGACY MUSEUM offerings available that celebrate our exhibition and the museum.  

The LEGACY MUSEUM is open from 10:00 a.m until 4:00 p.m. Monday-Friday and is closed during official University breaks. Click here for the Tuskegee University Academic Calendar. Admission is free and open to the public. Suggested donation is $3.00 per person. All contributions are welcome. Telephone Contacts: (334)-724-4625 or (334)-727-8888 Fax: (334)-725-2400. 

We are located at 1 Benjamin Payton Dr., Tuskegee AL 36088 CLICK HERE FOR DIRECTIONS.

The LEGACY MUSEUM operates under the auspices of Tuskegee University Library Services.  


Located at 1 Benjamin Payton Drive on the Tuskegee University campus in the former Infantile Paralysis Unit of John A. Andrew Memorial Hospital. Welcome to the Legacy Museum.

  • Opened April 2009. 

  • Created to honor the 599 participants of the United States Public Health Service Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male in Macon County, Alabama (1932-1972). 

  • Designed with two floors of exhibition space (nearly 9,000 square feet). 

  • Treasured Tuskegee University historical moments in public health, science, medicine, and the visual arts collection are highlighted in exhibitions and displays. 

Included in the collections are African, African American, American, European, and Oceanic art amassed over 130 years. Antique furniture is also a part of the collection. Art created by renowned artists such as Edmonia Lewis, William Edouard Scott, William A. Harper, Henry Ossawa Tanner, William H. Johnson, Ernest Crichlow, Floyd Colman and Benny Andrews have been donated to the museum.

Exhibits on Display

The Legacy Museum Dioramas: Windows to History


An exhibition documenting the coronavirus and its connection to other health disparities, such as the taking of the HeLa cells from Henrietta Lacks and the involuntary use of 599 Black men in the United States Public Health Service Untreated Syphilis study in the Negro Male and underrepresented,  underserved and under resourced communities and offers liberating and affirming pathways forward for communities of color.

140 Years of Treasures in the Tuskegee University Legacy Museum

In 2021 Tuskegee University will celebrate its 140th Anniversary and the Legacy Museum will celebrate its 12th Anniversary.

United States Public Health Service Untreated Syphilis Study in the Negro Male

The Patient, The Project, The Partnership: The Mass Production and Distribution of HeLa Cells

New Featured Collections



An anonymous donor has generously gifted to the Legacy Museum an autograph album and an album of photographs.   

What motivated you to give such a wonderful gift?

"I was motivated to purchase this item for Tuskegee because I believe that items that document the histories of HBCUs belong at HBCUs.  Unfortunately, because of the legacy of systemic racism in the United States, HBCUs may not always have funds to purchase items such as these.  When I saw the photo album and autograph book, I felt that the right thing to do was to try to find a way to get it to Tuskegee where it can be cared for by professionals in the place that produced it and where it has immense meaning."

Have you made similar donations elsewhere?

 "No, this is the first such donation I have made.  I don’t plan for it to be the last though."

Why is your gift meaningful to Tuskegee’s future?

"First of all the gift will be used in the UNCF Mellon Teaching and Learning Institute where it will be used as the center of an inquiry into conservation and Black history in the Midwest and the history of Tuskegee.  This will provide opportunities for participants to learn conservation skills needed to preserve history at Tuskegee and other UNCF institutions.  The album will also connect current and future generations of Tuskegee students to the long, rich, and significant history of their own institution."

"The autograph album belonged to Tuskegee Institute graduate Althea Clarice Bulls (1922-1994). Measuring 7” x  5,” the album dates from the days Ms. Bulls’s was a student at Tuskegee in the 1930s. The autograph album contains approximately 48 pages of signatures and inscriptions from Tuskegee professors and students. Bulls was, seemingly, engaged to Tuskegee student John W. Sewell, who graduated a year prior, however genealogical records indicate that she and Sewell never married. Ms. Bulls was enrolled at Tuskegee at the same time writers Albert Murray and Ralph Ellison were here. Albert Murray co-founded Jazz at Lincoln Center."

"Also, with the autograph album was a photograph album 11” x 7.25” which has 200 photographs of a Midwestern African American family, residents of Indianapolis, Indiana during the 1920s -1930s. The photographs include scenes of boating, vacations, and gatherings many of which took place in Hessel, Michigan at Les Cheneaux Golf Club, the oldest continuously played course in Michigan."

"Other important events were occurring in African American life and culture about the time of Ms. Bulls was at Tuskegee and families were visiting Les Cheneaux Golf Club in Hessel, Michigan. These events allow us to comprehend what America was like at the time Ms. Bull was at Tuskegee."

1915-1935 Robert R. Moton is the President of Tuskegee


  • One of the first art galleries to feature African American art opens at Howard University. Founded by James V. Herring, the Howard University Gallery of Art is the first of its kind in the United States to have its artistic vision directed by African Americans.

  • The Black Muslim Movement is established in Detroit by Wallace Fard Muhammad. Within four years, Elijah Muhammad takes control of the religious movement, moving its headquarters to Chicago.


  • The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) hires Walter White as its executive secretary. With White in this role, the organization develops new strategies for ending racial discrimination.

  • In March, nine African American young men are accused of raping two white women. Their case begins on April 6 and they are quickly convicted of the crimes. However, the case of the Scottsboro Boys soon receives national attention and will help pave the way for the civil rights movement.

  • Symphony composer William Grant Still becomes the first African American to have his music performed by a major orchestra.


  • A 40-year study begins in Tuskegee, Alabama. testing the impact of syphilis on 599 African American men. The United States Public Health Service Untreated Syphilis Study in the Negro Male from 1932-1972 begins. The men are never told they have syphilis nor are they offered any treatment.

  • Thomas Dorsey, known as the "father of African American gospel music." Dorsey writes "Take My Hand, Precious Lord."

  • Leon H. Washington publishes Sentinel in Los Angeles.

  • Sculptor Augusta Savage opens the Savage Studio of Arts and Crafts. Based in New York City, it is considered the largest art center in the United States.


  • James Weldon Johnson publishes his autobiography, Along This Way. Johnson's autobiography is the first person narrative by an African American to be reviewed by the New York Times. 

  • Historian Carter G. Woodson publishes Mis-education of the Negro.


  • W.E.B. Du Bois resigns from the NAACP.

  • Zora Neale Hurston publishes her first novel, Jonah's Gourd Vine. 


  • The Southern Tenant Farmer's Union is established by the Socialist Party to assist southern sharecroppers to fight for better wages and working conditions.

  • Pianist Count Basie establishes Count Basie and His Orchestra, which will become one of the biggest bands of the Swing Era.

  • The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Norris v. Alabama case that a defendant must have the right to a trial by jury by his/her peers. This ruling overturns the Scottsboro Boys' early conviction.

  • Mary McLeod Bethune establishes the National Council of Negro Women--calling more than 20 leaders of national women's organizations together.

1935-1953  Frederick D. Patterson is president of Tuskegee


  • Bethune is appointed Director of the Division of Negro Affairs for the National Youth Administration. Bethune is the first African American woman to receive a presidential appointment and is the highest-ranking African-American official in Theodore Roosevelt's administration. Bethune will be critical to the 1940 Negro Exposition in Chicago, the first Black World’s Fair.

  • Jesse Owens wins four gold medals at the Berlin Olympics. His achievement defies Adolf Hitler's plan to use the Olympics to show the world "Aryan Supremacy."

  • The first medical textbook to be written by an African American is entitled Syphilis and Its Treatment. The author is Dr. William Augustus Hinton.

  • The first African American federal judge is appointed by Roosevelt. William H. Hastie is appointed to the federal bench in the U.S. Virgin Islands.


  • The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and Maids signs a collective bargaining agreement with the Pullman Company.

  • Joe Louis wins the heavyweight championship against James J. Braddock.

  • The Negro Dance Group is founded by Katherine Dunham.

  • Zora Neale Hurston publishes the novel Their Eyes Were Watching God. 


  • The work of Jacob Lawrence debuts in an exhibition at the Harlem YMCA.

  • Crystal Bird Fauset becomes the first African American woman elected to a state legislature. She is chosen to serve in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.


  • Marian Anderson sings at the Lincoln Memorial in front of 75,000 people on Easter Sunday.

  • The Black Actor's Guild is founded by Bill "Bojangles" Robinson.

  • Jane M. Bolin is appointed to the domestic relations court of New York City. This appointment makes her the first African American woman judge in the United States.

1944 The United Negro College Fund was founded in Washington, DC by Tuskegee University President Frederick Patterson

The African American History Timeline 1930 to 1939 

Exibit Coming Soon


Exhibition brings together nearly all of Wilson’s known preparatory works for his Mexico City mural from 1952. This exhibition is courtesy of Yale University Art Gallery.              Click here to view the original press release. 


November 25, 2019, New Haven, Conn.—In 1952, while studying at La Esmeralda, the national school of art in Mexico City, African American artist John Wilson (1922–2015) painted The Incident, a fresco mural of a racial-terror lynching at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan. Executed on an exterior wall at street level, the mural was intended to be temporary, but its commanding composition prompted renowned Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros—who was then the head of Mexico’s department for the protection and restoration of murals—to advocate for its preservation. Though the mural itself is no longer extant, Reckoning with “The Incident”: John Wilson’s Studies for a Lynching Mural brings together nearly all of the known preparatory sketches and painted studies for the fresco, as well as related drawings and prints, from the collections of the Faulconer Gallery, Grinnell College, Iowa, the Clark Atlanta University Art Museum, the Yale University Art Gallery, and select private lenders.

As a young man, Wilson was drawn to the work of Mexican muralists José Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera, and Siqueiros and their commitment to create art with a socially conscious message. A grant from the John Hay Whitney Foundation allowed Wilson to travel to Mexico, where he studied from 1950 through 1956. He later commented, “The aim of the Mexican muralist movement was to be spokespeople for the common man. They wanted to create works of art expressing the reality of the forgotten ones, revealing their history, their celebrations and struggles. . . . [Mural painting] is a public thing because it’s available to masses of people. And so, through Mexican art I began to experience a sense of how to depict my reality.” Of his choice of lynching as the subject matter for his Mexican mural, Wilson said that while he knew that he was not going to “change America,” it was an attempt to “exorcise” the feelings he had carried with him since seeing photographs of lynchings as a child. 

Wilson explored the intersection of art and politics throughout his career, always with an eye toward issues of social justice.  His most well-known work is a three-foot-tall bust of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., which has been on view in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, D.C., since its 1986 installation. Reckoning with “The Incident”: John Wilson’s Studies for a Lynching Mural expands upon the national conversation focused in Montgomery, Alabama, with the recent opening of the Equal Justice Initiative’s Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice—national monuments of unprecedented importance that honor and memorialize over 4,400 African Americans from 12 Southern states who were lynched between 1877 and 1950.  

“Though no longer extant, John Wilson’s mural on the subject of a racial-terror lynching survives today in these numerous, beautifully articulated, and deeply emotive preparatory studies that attest to the transformative power of Wilson’s art,” states Elisabeth Hodermarsky, the Sutphin Family Curator of Prints and Drawings and cocurator of the exhibition. “Ranging from details in chalk of hands, feet, guns, and ropes to compositional cartoons in gouache, Wilson’s forcefully rendered studies help us contemplate the legacy of lynching and its indelible stain on America’s collective psyche.” 

Stephanie Wiles, the Henry J. Heinz II Director, notes that, “Since 2008 the Gallery has enthusiastically explored opportunities for college and university museums to share collections and develop interdisciplinary programs that spark important conversations about art and its role in our lives.” Wiles continues, “Highlighting drawings, prints, and painted studies of John Wilson’s now-lost mural on the subject of a lynching, this exhibition provides an unparalleled opportunity to present the artist’s compelling contributions and unique visual response to racial violence and injustice to audiences across America.” 

Related Sources 



Roger Blakemore restored the diorama commemorating the Harlem Hellfighters, an infantry troop regiment that was one of the first to serve in World War II.​

The Legacy Museum at Tuskegee University, led by Dr. Jontyle Robinson, was recognized on CBS Sunday Morning on August 30, 2020, for its role in conserving extraordinary dioramas that were displayed in the 1940 Negro Exposition. Please click here to watch the full segment.

Also, view the testimonials below.

Lunder Conservation Center

"Watch CBS Sunday Morning cover the incredible conservation of 20 The Legacy Museum, Tuskegee University dioramas from 1940, including "Reconstruction after the War" which was treated here #atSAAM two summers ago!”

U.S. Senator Chris Coons

“Proud to see the First State represented on CBS Sunday Morning! Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library and Dr. Jontyle Robinson of The Legacy Museum, Tuskegee University are collaborating to restore dioramas of Black American figures like the famed Harlem Hellfighters from World War 1. These dioramas—first created in 1940—were a platform for Black artists to share their work while helping promote racial understanding. Check out more information on the collaboration with the University of Delaware from Delaware’s own, Winterthur Museum.”

Rena Iversen Edminster

“Terrific segment. Thoroughly enjoyed it. Wonderful to see it's being restored & new people to learn the craft. Just amazing. Hope the lost 13 are found.”

Christine Schmidutz

"I LOVE that these are being used as a way to create space and careers in an otherwise traditionally white profession...representation matters in all things, because clearly the woman leading the charge saw value that others did not, and this is because of her unique view. Each one teach love love it.

Martha Perales

“This story was just beautiful it is wonderful to see young people working to restore this work of art.”

Nanette Chesley

“Just watched this and was awestruck at the craftsmanship that went into these pieces. Great clip.”

Markita Taylor

“This is amazing, I could only hope this inspires younger black people in preserving our history and endless contributions!”

JoAnn Yuki

“Fascinating story. So glad these National Treasures are being cared for and hope the others are found and given the respect they deserve.”

Beth Skipper

“This was a fascinating report. The dioramas are beautiful and such an important part of history. I’m so pleased to know they are being restored”

Benjamin F. Payton: A Legacy in Art
and History

The Lovette W. Harper Collection of
African Art

Letters from Our Visitors

Mass Prod. & Distribution of HeLa Cells
(Excerpt by Dr. Jontyle Robinson)

Hours of Operation

Monday-Friday  10am-4pm

Contact Us

Phone: 334-727-8889 or 8888
Help Desk: 334-724-4485

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