The mission of the Evansville African American Museum is to continually develop a resource and cultural center to collect, preserve, and educate the public on the history and traditions of African American families, organizations, and communities.
The Evansville African American Museum sits on the former location of the Lincoln Gardens. Lincoln Gardens, a Public Works Administration housing project, was the second project built under FDR’s New Deal and one of only two in the state of Indiana. The segregated Lincoln Gardens complex was constructed in Baptisttown, Evansville’s historically African-American community. It was across the street from the only African American high school in the region, Lincoln High School, constructed in 1928. In 1937, four city blocks, nearly eleven acres, of dilapidated housing were razed to accommodate construction of Lincoln Gardens.
Lincoln Gardens was dedicated by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt in November 1937. The complex opened on July 1, 1938, and the sixteen original buildings became the center of African-American life in the city. Managed by and for African Americans, the complex included 191 homes for 500 residents, five rooms for recreation and education, and wide landscaped lawns.
In August 1997 Sondra L Matthews (Editor and Publisher of Our Times Newspaper) appeared before the Evansville Housing Authority Board of Commissioners to request the preservation of parts the Lincoln Gardens housing development for historical and educational purposes. Ms. Matthews shared with the board the personal impact the units had on her and other Black families. She, along with a small group of former residents, met with EHA Executive Director John Collier and explored the possibility of saving a building and creating an African American Museum.
In September 1997, a new non-profit corporation was founded, and an executive board formed with Ms. Matthews as President. On January 19, 1999, a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held and finally in December 1999 the museum was awarded 501 (C) (3) status.