The Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia is celebrating its 40th anniversary with the opening of an exhibit called “Forging Freedom, Justice and Equality.”
The exhibit will be open for six months and 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.
“This is an important exhibit. We’re seeing the stories and journeys of African Americans told from the perspective of African Americans, created and curated by African Americans,” Donte Smith, from the BHMVA board of directors, told visitors during a media preview of the exhibit.
The special exhibition features more than 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, an enslaved man from Petersburg who escaped at the auction block in Richmond and eventually journeyed to freedom in Canada via the Underground Railroad. Later, he helped others on the journey 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 purpose is to talk about the pain and suffering. To talk about the Black experience,” said J. Dontrese Brown, the creator of “Hidden in Plain Site,” a website that explores overlooked Richmond sites important to the Black experience such as Lumpkin’s Jail.
“Forging Freedom, Justice and Equality” opens Wednesday and will be on display through April 29, 2023.
The Black History Museum & Cultural Center of Virginia is at a pivotal time in its history.
Last year, the city of Richmond announced it would transfer the 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 statue of Jefferson Davis is currently on loan to The Valentine. Next year, the museum will lend four of the Confederate monuments to California’s Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles for an art exhibition called “Monuments.”
This week, the Black History Museum launched a survey asking the public for input on the monuments on its website at blackhistorymuseum.org.
“We are still in the process of determining what the next steps will be. We want to involve the community to help in that process,” Andrea Wright, a spokesperson for the museum, said. The Valentine also has a survey on its website about the monuments at thevalentine.org.
The museum is also still searching for an executive director after Marland Buckner Jr., who was serving as interim director, stepped down earlier this year. Adele Johnson had served as the museum’s passionate leader from 2017 until her death last year.
“This position requires skill, expertise and a great degree of passion for the subject matter,” Wright said.
The Black History Museum is currently looking to hire an education coordinator.
“The social justice events of the past few years have propelled us forward. There is heightened awareness and heightened interest [in the museum],” Wright said. “There is so much in store at the Black History Museum. We want everyone to be on this journey with us.”
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