African American Museum of Southern Arizona: Family Passion Project Brings First-of-its-Kind Experience to University of Arizona Campus

Bob and Bevereley Elliott

In January 2023, the African American Museum of Southern Arizona opened its doors for the very first time. While the museum is filled with an incredible wealth of history, culture and education of past African American generations, this story starts with future ones—museum founders Bob ’77 BSBA (Accounting) ’84 (MBA) and Beverely Elliott’s grandson, Jody.

“Our grandson Jody was doing a report about African American history and he wanted to know where the African American history museum was in Arizona,” says Beverely.

The fact is there wasn’t one. So the Elliotts decided to develop one with seven-year-old Jody leading the charge. His stamp is on many of the museum’s current concepts geared for children. Jody’s inspiration touches many other aspects of the museum. He has a recording that welcomes guests upon their arrival and he had the honor of doing the ribbon cutting at the museum’s grand opening.

Bob admits that while he was heavily involved at the onset of this family passion project, such as putting together the infrastructure and forming the board of directors, Beverely has since taken the reigns. She serves as the museum’s executive director and is highly instrumental in the day-to-day operations of the museum today.

“Sometimes the best thing do to is listen and watch,” says Bob. Coincidentally, the couple recently celebrated their 48th wedding anniversary so perhaps this sage advice extends to all things in life. And while Beverely is quick to say she is not a curator or a docent, she is an avid lifelong learner who is passionate about educating herself and others. 

Bob is a former NBA basketball player who was named the Tucson Man of the Year in 2014. He is the only University of Arizona student athlete to be a member of the College Academic All American Hall of Fame. He has served as chairman of multiple boards and is the founder and president of Elliott Accounting. A retired educator, Beverely serves as vice president of the firm. She has sat on the boards of The University Alumni Association, Tucson Botanical Gardens and more. She is currently on The University of Arizona Black Community Council, among others. They have four children and 10 grandchildren between the ages of 24 and nine. 

Screens in the museum are dedicated to highlighting collections of local African American people and landmarks in Tucson itself. The Oral Historians Collection features interviews with people such as Tucson native and UA alum Laura Banks-Reed while the Legacy Stories Collection shares the stories of important figures who have passed such as Quincie Douglas, as told by their family members. Further, the museum’s Arizona History Collection educates visitors about the many historical landmarks that have African American ties such as the Mountain View Hotel, which was opened and operated in Tucson in 1895 by bi-racial couple “Curly” and Annie Neal.

The Elliotts intend for the museum to have some stationary exhibitions while others will rotate. Through these historical artifacts, documents, images, and stories, they hope to not only preserve African American culture, life and history but to also help educate visitors for the benefit of the entire community. 

“Our biggest hope for the museum is that people will walk away saying ‘I didn’t know that,’” she says. “We want to teach you something, but we also don’t want to be the end all. We want you to continue to learn more.”