June 21, 2024
Carolyn Hoskins has been educating – and entertaining – Bay Area residents for decades with a traveling museum dedicated to all sorts of Black history, and the 49ers and football in the Bay Area are part of that legacy.

Carolyn Hoskins has been educating – and entertaining – Bay Area residents for decades with a traveling museum dedicated to all sorts of Black history.

Hoskins’ home, however, is something right out of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

“Our family room is a shrine to football; signed jerseys on the walls and memorabilia everywhere,” the longtime Bay Area resident said. “I’ve just kind of run out of space.”

But the impressive array of football relics barely scratches the surface of a massive treasure trove of history that Hoskins has accumulated for a far greater purpose than just being a collector.

What became Hoskins’ life work started with a question over 20 years ago.

Carolyn Hoskins shows off a basketball signed by the Harlem Globetrotters, one of the items from the Domini Hoskins Black History Museum and Learning Center at her home on Friday, July 21, 2023, in Belmont, Calif. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group) 

One February day, Hoskins’ grandson, Domini, came home from Central Elementary School in Belmont lamenting being assigned projects on only Martin Luther King Jr. for Black History month.

“His powerful question to me was ‘Are there any other famous black people that did anything?’” Hoskins recalls.

What began as research for a small school project continues decades later in the form of the Domini Hoskins Black History Museum and Learning Center, a traveling tribute in the Bay Area with hundreds of exhibits and thousands of items. Hoskins says don’t even ask her how large her collection is because it’s grown too enormous to count.

Among the many exhibits are displays devoted to inventors, musicians, athletes and political leaders, among others. Football has a special place in the exhibits as well as Hoskins’ heart.

She is the widow of Bob Hoskins, who played for the 49ers from 1969-1975. Carolyn said Bob, who died in 1980 after suffering a heart attack, always had an interest in history and would’ve loved and supported the museum.

Among her many red-and-gold collectibles are a litany of rare items donated by Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice.

Jerry Rice memorabilia makes up a large percentage of the Domini Hoskins Black History Museum and Learning Center at Carolyn Hoskins home in Belmont, Calif., Friday, July 21, 2023. Hoskins is godmother to the children of the San Francisco 49ers Hall of Fame wide receiver. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group) 

“One of the things that I treasure dearly is a jacket from when he first started out, and everyone called him ‘Flash,’” said Hoskins, who has been friends with Rice’s family for years and is the godmother to Jerry’s children. “That jacket has ‘Flash’ on it.”

Hoskins often has children and classes come through her museum on field trips, some of them talented athletes.

“To me, when we’re talking about sports, I think it’s so important for these young players to understand what these other players went through,” said Hoskins, who has served on the NFL Alumni Association’s board of directors for nearly two decades.

Among those who have visited the museum is Dr. Clayborne Carson, a professor at Stanford who has devoted his life to studying Martin Luther King Jr. and his writings.

“Sports have often been a site of racial distinction, but also an area where people could be judged by different standards,” Dr. Carson told the Bay Area News Group.

There is no shortage of sports memorabilia in the Domini Hoskins museum, but Hoskins says her favorite exhibits are the ones that highlight the hundreds of inventions African-Americans have provided the world.

The home of Carolyn Hoskins, founder of the Domini Hoskins Black History Museum and Learning Center, is a showcase of black art, culture and sports memorabilia n Belmont, Calif., Friday, July 21, 2023. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group) 

“The refrigerator system, the traffic light, the hairbrush, the potato chip and the elevator,” Hoskins said, listing off a few of the 200-plus African-American inventions in her museum.

After three decades, the museum has had its fair share of famous visitors, some of whom remind Hoskins of the current-day connections to her museum displays.

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“(A lady) asked me ‘Do you have any information on Emmett Till,’ and I said I do, and that when we have students come in, I have a video on him and we do talk about him,” Hoskins said of Till, whose racially motivated murder in Mississippi in 1955, at the age of 14, was a galvanizing force in the civil rights movement. “I showed her the exhibit. She said, “That was my nephew.”

“It was just chills that went through me, to know that I was that close to someone related to him.”

Hoskins’ museum has popped up in Belmont, Oakland, Richmond, San Francisco, Redwood City, San Mateo and other Bay Area cities over the years. The museum was most recently on display at the San Mateo County Fair this summer.

Between showings, all the relics reside in several storage units around the Bay Area. Hoskins receives donations, but she also works part-time at the Dollar Tree in San Carlos to help pay for the storage costs.

“We pay for it ourselves to keep these stories going,” said Hoskins, “to keep the museum going.”

Soon, however, Hoskins may achieve her ultimate goal and find the museum a permanent home. The museum recently received $2 million in funding in the 2023-24 state budget after State Sen. Josh Becker, D-San Mateo, advocated for Hoskins.

Hoskins says she is currently negotiating for a location in Redwood City. Once that building is secured, she hopes she can begin to host speakers who will bring the history to life. Hoskins is already looking ahead to 2026, when the Super Bowl returns to the Bay Area and she can use the museum to help tell the story about Black players in the NFL.

A 49ers-themed phone is among the items on display at the Domini Hoskins Black History Museum and Learning Center at Carolyn Hoskins home in Belmont, Calif., Friday, July 21, 2023. Hoskins’ late husband Bob Hoskins played for the football team in the 1970’s. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group) 

“My goal is to reach out to these people and have them come in and tell their story,” Hoskins said.

Hoskins welcomes everyone to her museum, with a simple goal: That people around the Bay Area won’t leave the museum asking the same question her grandson, now 32, did two decades ago.

“I want people to understand how important and rich the history is, and all of the great contributions that African Americans have given and all of the struggles that they have gone through to still be here and standing strong.”

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