Three pieces from VCU Libraries’ collections part of new National Museum of African American History and Culture
September 22, 2016
The three images that will be displayed at the museum include:
- A digitized photograph of the Robert R. Moton High School for African Americans in Prince Edward County, which was built in 1953 following a student-led strike in protest of segregated and inferior school facilities. After the 1954 landmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case, white segregationists in Prince Edward County chose to close public schools rather than integrate them. The schools were closed from 1959 to 1964. During this period, provisions were made to educate white children in the county; none were made for black children. The image is part of VCU Libraries’ Edward H. Peeples Prince Edward County (Va.) Public Schools Collection.
- A 1978 photograph of Sixth Mount Zion Church from VCU Libraries’ Jackson Ward Historic District collection. The church was saved from demolition in the 1950s when construction of the Richmond-Petersburg Turnpike, which later became part of Interstate 95, cut a swath through Jackson Ward, effectively bifurcating a historically African-American neighborhood in Richmond.
- A postcard of Sixth Mount Zion Church from VCU Libraries’ Rarely Seen Richmond digital collection of postcards of vintage Richmond postcards, mostly between 1900 and 1930.
The photo of the Moton School will be included in an exhibition gallery titled “Making a Way,” while the two images of Sixth Mount Zion Church will be included in an exhibition gallery titled “Defending Freedom, Defining Freedom: Era of Segregation 1876-1968.”
VCU Libraries often receives requests from museums for collection materials for loan or reproduction and use in exhibitions or publications. This request is particularly meaningful, according to Wesley Chenault, Ph.D., head of Special Collections and Archives at James Branch Cabell Library.
“A bit of our collective past in Richmond and Central Virginia is now represented there and connected to a larger narrative of struggles and triumphs related to civil and human rights.”
“While loaning or sharing our collections is a part of what we do, it is thrilling nonetheless to be able to contribute to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture,” Chenault said. “A bit of our collective past in Richmond and Central Virginia is now represented there and connected to a larger narrative of struggles and triumphs related to civil and human rights at the National Mall, a living site of landmarks, museums, protests, events and more. This is where our nation’s first African-American president was inaugurated, the same site where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. That is exciting to consider.”
The three images help illustrate an important part of African-American history and the struggle for equality, Chenault said.
“The photographs and postcard were created during a near century-long struggle for African-Americans to improve their lives in the United States,” he said. “They provide evidence of grassroots efforts to carve out spaces that anchored and nurtured communities during an era of legal and extralegal segregation and to seek equality in the public sphere.”
The National Museum of African American History and Culture, part of the Smithsonian Institution, is under construction on a five-acre tract adjacent to the Washington Monument. It is envisioned to become a place where visitors can learn about the richness and diversity of the African-American experience, what it means to their lives and how it helped shaped the United States.
A version of this article by Brian McNeill was published by VCU News.