Posted on February 20, 2006

Lily-White Idaho Honors Little-Known Contributions of Blacks

Anne Wallace Allen, AP, Feb. 17, 2006

BOISE, Idaho — As the new director of the Idaho Black History Museum, Kimberly Moore’s job starts with convincing people that such history actually exists.

“It’s interesting, when you talk to people, what they know or they think they know,” said Moore, who left Detroit’s Motown Historical Museum to take the position in Boise this month. “African-Americans have made a significant contribution to this state.”

Ask most people in or out of Idaho about the state’s black history, and you’re likely to get a blank look. There just aren’t many black people here — 11,000 is Moore’s estimate, less than 1 percent of Idaho’s 1.4 million population.

But black people have a history in Idaho. It starts with York, the slave of William Clark who traveled through Idaho 200 years ago with explorers Clark and Meriwether Lewis.

The Idaho Black History Museum tells the story of York and of the black explorers, fur traders, gold prospectors, miners, ranchers and others who came after him. Some traveled to Idaho for the same reasons as other newcomers — for work in the mines or on the railroad, for religious freedom, or simply as settlers needing land.

And others came to escape oppression in the post-Civil War south.

The museum is set in a tiny former black Baptist church — a space that Moore hopes to quadruple in size. Exhibits introduce characters like Gobo Fango, a West African who was born in 1855 and adopted by white Mormons. He started a sheep ranch near Oakley.