Meet the man behind the Grand Rapids African American Museum and Archives

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich — George Bayard is exactly where he wants to be.

Growing up, he enjoyed collecting things ranging from baseball cards to comic books to art as an adult.

He ran a successful art gallery in Grand Rapids for 25 years before another opportunity presented itself.

“People would come and ask us, you know, ‘My mom is dead, dead and has all these empty magazines, can you use them?’ And we just started saying yes to everything,” Bayard told FOX 17 News.

In 2015, the Grand Rapids African American Museum and Archives (GRAAMA) opened in a small building in downtown Monroe Center.

“There has to be a way to make sure things like this are preserved and the history is passed down from generation to generation,” Bayard said. “[The name] is a tribute to my grandmother and other grandmothers who were there to continue the family history.”

There was immediate interest in the new museum.

“We were just amazed at the things we found,” Bayard recalls. “We were also surprised that there wasn’t a lot of history, historical artifacts or artifacts to back up most of the stories you heard here.”

The museum features a collection of historical objects and artifacts, as well as oral histories.

Many people may be familiar with some of the big names associated with the city of Grand Rapids, but Bayard said many lesser-known figures also played significant roles in black history.

This includes people like Dr. Emmett Bolden, who was the city’s civil rights hero.

“Dr. Bolden, who joined the Keith cinema. He and a few colleagues went over there to sit and watch a show. They were relegated – all black people were relegated – to the upper balcony at that time” , explained Bayard. “He challenged it, took it to the Supreme Court and won his case.”

READ MORE: Kalamazoo Institute of Arts celebrates Black History Month with new exhibition showcasing African art

The main faces of the movements also stopped in Grand Rapids.

“Fountain Street Church had Malcolm X here…1961,” Bayard said. “He spoke and there’s this tape over there. Someone…someone recorded it; we searched, you know, for this tape.”

Bayard added, “Malcolm X’s sister lived here for a very long time…Yvonne Woodard. I think she’s one of the first telephone operators here in Grand Rapids.”

Emmett Till’s mother also made a milestone in Grand Rapids.

“[She] came here and spoke after burying her son. And a lot of people don’t know that,” Bayard said. “She was at AME Community Church, spoke to a crowd, according to the news, of 2,000 to 3,000 people. The crowd stretched around the block.”

Bayard’s hope is that people know and celebrate their story.

“We don’t want to repeat where we have been, and we certainly want to make the future brighter, especially for young people,” he said. “We love it. I mean, that’s why we’re here. And for us to be able to tell these stories is a good thing…for us, that’s the prize is seeing people say, ‘Wow, I l ‘did ‘I don’t know.'”

Bayard is a licensed appraiser who is always looking to add to the collection.

You can find the Grand Rapids African American Museum and Archives at 87 Monroe Center St NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503.

READ MORE: 6-year-old impersonates famous black history figures

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