Montana Historical Society

Big Sky ~ Big History

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R. H. Beckwith ,Studio portrait of an unidentified African-American man, Helena, Montana, 1888-1889, MHS Research Center Photo Archives, #957-376.

Welcome to the home page for Montana’s African American Heritage Resources Project, a gateway to exploring the Montana Historical Society's rich collections that document this understudied aspect of our state's history.

Although African American people never have totaled more than one percent of the state’s population, they have been in the place that would become Montana since the earliest days of non-Indigenous presence and contribute greatly to Montana’s culture, economy, and religious life. Each corner of the state has significant stories to tell about African American people’s experiences in the West.

The resources on this website include information about many aspects of Black history in Montana. We invite you to explore the story maps, property inventories, lesson plans, census information, essays, first-person narratives, photographs, manuscript collections, and artifacts that help tell the story of Montana’s African American heritage.

Beginning in 2008, the Montana Cultural Trust generously supported the project’s initial research and documentation, focusing on an inventory of collections at the Montana Historical Society. In 2015 and 2016, the National Park Service and the Montana History Foundation funded additional research, focusing on historic properties statewide associated with black history. For more information about the project and our generous funders, please see the About page.

Congratulations to Delia Hagen, of Hagen Historical Consulting, recipient of the National Council on Public History’s “2018 Excellence in Consulting Award” for her work on the Identifying Montana’s African American Heritage Resources Project. Lauded as “the fullest [and] richest account of African American history in Helena and much of the rest of Montana,” you can read her comprehensive, award-winning context here.

Captain John Smith. About 80 years old, Familiar Charachter [sic] in Helena, Montana, 1891, MHS Research Center Photo Archives, # 945-008.


Photograph Credits: Detail of Edward M. Reinig, “Group portrait of African American women's cultural group staging pageant of many nations at the Galen Building, Helena, Montana," MHS Research Center Photo Archives, #PAc 80-23.M1; Detail of A.B. Coe, "General Wesley Merritt's camp, St. Mary's Lake, Montana, 1894," Kipp, MT, MHS Research Center Photo Archives, #957-994; Detail of "Aunt Milly [sic] Ringold, Once a Slave. R.I.P," MHS Research Center Photo Archives, #944-585; Detail of “Mrs. William Guthrie (top deck at left) and son Georgie on steamboat [DeSmet], bound for Fort Benton, ca. 1874,” [African-American workers in right foreground], MHS Research Center Photo Archives, #PAc 74-15.5; The New Age, Butte, Montana, nameplate.

This material is based upon work assisted by grants from the Department of the Interior, National Park Service and the Montana History Foundation. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of the Interior nor the Montana History Foundation.