‘God Given Mission’: Smith and Henry to Create Black History Museum | News
ASHLAND Ashlander Bernice Henry remembers a time when she was not free to go anywhere in the community.
“I remember times of segregation and places we couldn’t go and places we could go,” Henry said. “It’s something I actually experienced, not just studied.”
Working with his nephew, Darrell Smith, Henry hopes to keep black history alive and educate people about it by establishing a black history museum in Ashland.
Smith said the building, at 901 Kilgore Drive, has been secured, with February 2023 in mind as the opening.
“The housing authority owns the building, which was built in the early 1970s and named after Professor CB Nuckolls who was at Booker T. Washington School,” Smith said. “They give it to us for $1 a year for three years. Utilities are fully covered. We will cover it and paint the gallery.
Smith said he and Henry collect any artifacts they can find and work with Heather Lynn Photography to photograph and curate images.
“I’ve noticed that black history has been disappearing in Ashland for a while now,” he said. “The Booker T. Washington School (which closed due to desegregation in 1962) burned down in 1975, along with photos, trophies, and other memorabilia.”
He said they had found more than 20,000 stories and photos from around 600 supporters so far. They plan to use half of their part of the building or exhibits.
The other half will be used for education. Henry will teach black history classes for children and adults and provide a library. Smith said they also plan to hold events to draw crowds and guest speakers, and the local NAACP office will be housed in the building.
Henry, who attended Booker T. Washington School, served as vice president of the NAACP and chair of the Ashland Human Rights Commission, commissioner of the Kentucky Human Rights Commission for the 7th District and was the first African American woman to serve. the Board of Commissioners for the Town of Ashland.
The idea of the museum was well received.
“I’ve been so pleasantly surprised at the reception people have in the community when asked about it,” she said. “It makes me realize that this is a God-given mission and it is necessary.”
One of the projects they are planning is a black family scrapbook that every black family in Ashland can have photos in. So far, Smith said 90 families will have their own sealed section or photos.
There will also be an art gallery featuring black artists, and Smith said he’s been working with local booksellers on projects to promote black writers.
The two do not expect the scope or effects of the museum to stop at the city limits.
“It’s not just a small town museum,” Smith said. “We aspire to make it something you would see in a big city. We want it to be a real destination and we hope people will come just to see it.
Henry said she expects the museum to be “a living organism” that will be the center of events and gatherings.
“The museum, for me, is a portal to the past, but not just the past,” she said. “It connects the past to our future, so it means everything to me. A bright future, an exciting adventure. It provides more unity in the community, as that saying goes.
She said after two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was time for a fresh start.
“Education is the only way for people to get to know each other,” she said. “If I know the story about you and you know the story about me, it helps us understand each other better.”
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