This Virginia Museum Wants to Help Build a Better Future

The Virginia Museum of History and Culture wants to highlight untold stories from Black history. Photo courtesy of the Virginia Museum of History and Culture.

By Arianna Coghill
October 1, 2020

A $200,000 grant and partnership will help create Black history exhibits

RICHMOND- Richmond plays an important role in Virginia’s Black history. As everything from the capital of the former Confederacy to the epicenter of Virginia’s Civil Rights movement, there’s plenty to learn about. But these are more than just stories. They play a big part in how to understand the social challenges Black people still face.

“Understanding the trials of our past offers perspective to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow,” said Adam Scher, Vice President of Collections and Exhibitions at the Virginia Museum of History and Culture. “History can help us envision a better future if we are committed to telling these challenging stories in all their complexity.”

Last year, the VHMC partnered with the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia (BHMVA). Together, they aspired to tell the often untold stories celebrating Virginia’s Black history. There’s the story of Maggie Walker, the first woman to be a bank president in America. Barbara Johns also played a key role in history. Johns was a 16-year-old junior at Robert Russa Moton High in Farmville when she organized a student strike. In 1951, she and her classmates called for a new school building. The NAACP then recommended the students sue for integration. That case was one of five rolled into the Brown v. Board of Education ruling before the US Supreme Court.

The Commonwealth is filled with stories like these, waiting to be shared. Thanks to this partnership and some financial help, the museum can make that happen.

Grant Funding Helps Launch The Project

This year reignited the long-held conversation around racial injustice in America. And in this conversation, museums play an important role. However, COVID-19 has changed the way people can interact with these exhibits.

“The pandemic’s widespread impact has changed how museums and libraries engage with their communities, but all continue to provide information, education, support, entertainment and numerous other resources,” said the VHMC in a release. The VHMC will use this grant to help the people virtually learn about Virginia’s Black history during the pandemic.

The Institute of Museum and Library Services awarded the museum $200,000, choosing them out of 1,701 applicants. On Wednesday, the museum announced that it was one of 14 recipients in Virginia to win the highly competitive funding.

According to BHMVA Executive Director Adele Johnson, this grant will be beneficial for both museums. BHMVA, for example, will be able to catalogue and digitize its collections.This will make it easier for the public to interact with these exhibits during the global health crisis.

“Our mission at the BHMVA is to preserve stories that inspire,” said Johnson. “And our long-term partnership will allow both institutions to sustain and maximize our existing staff and infrastructure, enhance collections growth and preservation, and expand and prioritize public engagement – particularly in underserved audiences – with artifacts and stories relevant to the Black community that have helped shape our nation and our world.”

Upcoming Projects From the VHMC and the BHM

Currently, the museums have several projects in the works. Right now, according to Scher, the groups are working on a display of highlights from various points in VA history. This display will include stories relating to Emancipation, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, Desegregation, Massive Resistance, and the Civil Rights Movement.

“Generations stand to benefit from this innovative collaboration, and we hope it will be yet another sign of the VMHC’s sincere commitment to play a stronger part our community and be a more vibrant cultural asset for this Commonwealth and all its people,” said VMHC President and CEO Jamie Bosket.

The museum will also be taking their exhibit Determined: The 400-Year Struggle for Black Equality on the road. Beginning on Jan. 2021, the museum will take this traveling version of the 2019 exhibition to display at libraries, small historical societies, schools, and other community organizations.

Determined surveys important aspects of four centuries of black history in Virginia—from the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in 1619 to the present day—through the stories of black Virginians who have fought for equality,” said Scher. “A book version of Determined authored by VMHC curator Dr. Karen Sherry is slated for publication next summer.”

Arianna Coghill is a content producer at Dogwood. You can reach her at [email protected]

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