Murfreesboro Mama: 5 things you might have missed about Bradley Academy Museum and Cultural Center

Feb 06, 2020 at 09:30 am by Laura Beth Payne

Bradley Academy Museum and Cultural Center

Murfreesboro still surprises me.

As I planned this article I felt it was only right to draw attention to a place helping us remember African-American history this month, but honestly I was also glad for the extra reason to visit Bradley Academy Museum and Cultural Center.

I have only the vaguest memory of it as a museum when I was younger, and honestly, I'm not sure I ever went. Before this visit I probably couldn't have told you more than the fact that it was the city's first school for African-Americans. 

It is, of course, but there is more to it than that!

Taking my children turned out to be a experience of learning and engagement, not only with local history, but art, culture, and education as well. African-American History Month is of course a great time to visit, but it’s also a meaningful for families and learners of all ages any time of the year. Here are five things you might have missed (and I totally did) about Bradley Academy Museum.

1. Local and National Roots

There are times I forget our “little” city’s impact on the rest of the nation, and it’s by visiting our historic sites that I relearn the role many of our citizens and institutions have played in our country’s larger narrative. Bradley was one of the first formal schools for white males in the county, and in it such statesmen as President James K. Polk and Tennessee Sen. John Bell (who ran against Abraham Lincoln) received their early education. The school was the first for newly freed slaves in the city after the Civil War, and in 1917, a new building, the current structure, was built and remained a major center for African American elementary education for first through fifth grades until after segregation ended in 1954.

2. Living history

The museum offers a wealth of photos, memorabilia and information on the African-American experience locally and nationally, and I both enjoyed and was moved by the featured exhibits on slavery, blacks who fought in the Civil War, and the students who attended Bradley and later Holloway High School (which was built in 1929 and served as the city's African American high school).  

I was thrilled, however, that we were able to meet someone like Margaret Davis, a former pupil of the school, who was also instrumental in advocating for the preservation and restoration of the building. She, and other former students, now volunteer to share their memories and experiences as children attending the school with subpar materials, often using broken or torn books handed down from the white schools, and enduring harsh weather in a poorly insulated building. She’s quick, however, to talk about the dedicated teachers who made learning a joy even during the hardships of segregation, and recall such anecdotes as the “little drummer boy”—a drum children took turns using instead of a bell to call children to classes, lunch, and recess.

3. Art galleries

Walking into the century-old building, I half-expected rather dark and solemn rooms, but instead was immediately drawn in by the bright light, the clean and open appearance of the rooms, and eye-catching art on the walls. The museum’s exhibit halls are filled with works by area artists including pottery, canvas, mixed media, and 3D techniques. It’s a rich visual experience and a wonderful way to sample local creativity.

4. Hands-On Learning

While I could read plaques and peruse historical pieces all morning, my 2 and 4 year old babes haven’t quite mastered that art, so I appreciated the train and lego tables provided for littles in the main classroom, as well as the cabinet of scavenger hunts free for guests to navigate the rooms. It’s a great way to provide direction for young visitors’ attention.

5. Events for all

Since coming along to help manage Bradley’s programming and the facilities in 2015, Murfreesboro  Parks and Recreation coordinates regular events in the school for all ages and abilities to enjoy and learn. Check out these upcoming opportunities, and make a plan to visit this local gem.

February 6

Sensory Night.


$3/child, adults free

Designed for individuals aged 8-13 with special needs, this event features sensory stations throughout the museum for help children enjoy free play. Look for sensory nights for varying ages throughout the year! 

February 20

Sensory Night


Designed for ages 14-22.

February 21

Bradley’s Got Talent



All acts by contestants 18 and under are welcome at this fun community talent show. There will be refreshments and a panel of judges to award winning contestants. To sign up email or call 615-962-8773 

March 6 and April 3

Music and Mingle

11:30am- 12:30pm

$3/child, adults free

Children ages 2-5 will learn about musical instruments, play with them, and enjoy snacks.

March 7

Sensory Saturday 11am- 3pm

$3/child, adults free

Like the Sensory Nights, this event features sensory stations and fun activities for children with special needs, but is also open to the general public.

Bradley Academy Museum and Cultural Center, 415 South Academy St., Murfreesboro, (615) 962-8773. BradleyAcademyMuseum. Tours are available Tuesday-Saturday, 10am-4pm. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for seniors and students, $1 for children 12 and under.

Laura Beth Payne is a writer mama living in the Blackman Community of Murfreesboro with her husband Nathan and their two children. Follow @murfreesboromama on Facebook and Instagram for more family fun in and around the city.


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