History museum

Black History Museum opens exhibit, launches survey of Confederate monuments

By COLLEEN CURRAN Richmond Times–Dispatch

The Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia celebrates its 40th anniversary with the opening of an exhibit titled “Forging Freedom, Justice, and Equality.”

The exhibit will be open for six months and will cover several issues about being black in Virginia, such as life before freedom, the history of the black church, the role of black businesses and the black press, the power of education, blacks in the military and in sports and entertainment.

“It’s an important exhibition. We see the stories and journeys of African Americans told from the perspective of African Americans, created and curated by African Americans,” Donte Smith, of BHMVA’s board of directors, told visitors during a media preview of the exhibition.

The special exhibit features over 100 photographs and artifacts from the museum and other collections.

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For example, the exhibit tells the story of John Henry Hill, a slave from Petersburg who escaped at auction in Richmond and eventually journeyed to freedom in Canada via the Underground Railroad. Later, he helped others on the path to freedom. The exhibit also includes painful reminders such as the bill of sale for a 6-year-old girl named Jane in 1864.

“Our goal is to talk about pain and suffering. To talk about the Black experience,” said J. Dontrese Brown, the creator of “Hidden in Plain Site,” a website that explores neglected Richmond sites important to the Black experience, such as Lumpkin’s Jail.

“Forging Freedom, Justice and Equality” will be on display until April 29, 2023.

The Black History Museum & Cultural Center of Virginia is at a pivotal moment in its history.

Last year, the city of Richmond announced that it would transfer Confederate monuments removed from the city to the Black History Museum.

As part of the transfer, the Black History Museum, which is small with a staff of four and a nonprofit, will partner with The Valentine and other local cultural organizations to decide what to do with the monuments.

The Jefferson Davis statue is currently on loan to The Valentine. Next year, the museum will lend four of the Confederate monuments to the California Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles for an art exhibit called “Monuments.”

Recently, the Black History Museum launched a survey asking the public to give their opinion on the monuments on their website at blackhistorymuseum.org.

“We are still determining what the next steps will be. We want to involve the community to help in this process,” said Andrea Wright, spokesperson for the museum. Valentine also has a survey on its monument website at thevalentine.org.

The museum is also still looking for an executive director after Marland Buckner Jr., who served as interim director, stepped down earlier this year. Adele Johnson had been the museum’s passionate director from 2017 until her death last year.

“This position requires skill, expertise and a high degree of passion for the subject,” Wright said.

The Black History Museum is currently seeking to hire an Education Coordinator.

“The social justice events of the past few years have propelled us forward. There is increased awareness and increased interest [in the museum]“, said Wright. “There is so much in store at the Black History Museum. We want everyone to be with us on this journey.

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Twitter: @collcurran