Elaine Nichols, a native of Charlotte, N.C., has spent her professional career preserving and documenting unique collections and aspects of African American culture as a museum curator.
She began her career in South Carolina, where she served as a guest curator at the South Carolina State Museum and mounted the exhibition, The Last Miles of the Way: African American Funeral and Mourning Customs in South Carolina, 1890-Present. She was later promoted to curator of history and helped to build the museum’s collection of artifacts related to African Americans and the Palmetto State.
In 2009, Nichols was named supervisory curator of culture at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in Washington, D.C. In addition to her administrative duties, she helped to develop the inaugural collections of the museum. Her work at NMAAHC includes responsibility for curating costumes, textiles and decorative arts at the museum, which includes the Black Fashion Museum collection founded by Lois Alexander Lane and the Ebony Fashion Fair collection created by Eunice Johnson.
Nichols also served as the founding project curator for the Civil Rights History Project (CRHP), a public mandate of the United States Congress. The CRHP, a collaboration between NMAAHC and the Library of Congress, collected oral histories from more than 130 grassroots activists, supporters and national leaders who were involved in the civil rights movement during the 1950s and 1960s.
Nichols holds a Master of Arts in public service archaeology from the University of South Carolina and a Master of Arts in social administration and planning from Case Western Reserve University.