Arts And Culture

The Museum in Black preserves black history in a mostly Latino community

Aug. 29, 2011, 12:08 p.m.


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On the first floor of the historic Dunbar Hotel is a museum that celebrates black history and lifestyle.

The Museum in Black displays international artifacts, antiques, and black memorabilia, a collection by founder and curator Brian Breye.

Metal spears, African tribal masks and segregation signs adorn its walls, while original 18th century slave chains and cuffs sit in display cases. It seems every nook and cranny of the roughly 2,000 square-foot space is crammed with kente cloths, carved figures, black dolls, records and books, all just a portion of Breye’s 3,000-piece collection.

“A lot of people think it’s junk but most people who understand the value of black memorabilia understand what it is I’ve done with this museum,” Breye said.

In the 1950s, during his travels across the country, Brooklyn-born Breye, 75, says he spotted items that showed the life and history of black people in America and beyond and began collecting them.

Throughout the years, Breye continued buying and trading items, storing them in boxes behind the karate school he ran in Los Angeles. When his collection began cramping the school, he opened his first museum in a small building on Pico Boulevard in the early 1970s.

A few years later, Breye briefly displayed his collection at the Dunbar Hotel, and has since used the space as storage. He then found a space in Leimert Park, the museum’s home for about 20 years. It was there when Breye’s collection garnered the attention of visitors from around the world and was also featured in several museum exhibits around the country.

“I gained notoriety through time, but not just in the community," said Breye. "I’m known everywhere; in Africa, in China, and I’ve never even been to China."

Since closing his Leimert Park site, Breye has dedicated time to organize his many possessions he stores inside the Dunbar, opening only for special events or upon request. It's an honor, Breye says, to be housed in what was once considered a central point for the African American community in Los Angeles.

Although Breye sees the area's change in demographics, he says the value of history transcends across cultures.

"This community now is mostly Spanish, but they still... they love it; they come in, they ask me questions, they want to know about certain things," said Breye.

While the Dunbar Hotel will soon undergo renovations to be converted into a housing complex, Breye says he will have to move his belongings to make way for the planned commercial space. He is currently looking for a permanent location to continue sharing the history behind his many gems.

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