SHEPHERDSTOWN – A new exhibit is opening this weekend at the Historic Shepherdstown Museum, with a focus on local Black history.
The exhibit, “Educational Opportunities for Black Jefferson County Residents Before and After Brown v. Board of Education, ” is being presented with financial assistance from the West Virginia Humanities Council, a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
According to Historic Shepherdstown Commission President Donna Bertazzoni, first-person and second-person research was the exhibit’s foundation. Oral interviews were conducted by the students of Shepherd University Associate Professor of History Keith Alexander, with a number of Black local residents who experienced or were told first-person accounts from now-deceased family members, of the difference Brown v. Board of Education brought to their educational experiences.
“The new exhibit builds on Historic Shepherdstown Museum’s effort to fulfill its mission to preserve Shepherdstown’s heritage and the contributions of its citizens, by telling the story of all of the people of the community,” Bertazzoni wrote in a press release. “Only through the actual words of the Black residents can visitors begin to understand the complex lives of African Americans in Jefferson County, during the mid-20th century.”
The new exhibit will feature two panels. The first panel will help viewers to examine the establishment of Black-only schools in Shepherdstown and Jefferson County, including Page Jackson High School and Storer College. Both schools were the result of the 1872 West Virginia Constitution, which segregated schools. The second panel will show viewers the progression of integration after the landmark 1954 Supreme Court decision that ruled, “Separate but equal has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. ” In addition to the panels, viewers will be able to review flip books, featuring the short biographies and quotes of Black Jefferson County residents, who lived through both segregation and integration in the school system.
“The new exhibit will be housed in the same room as our ‘Busy Sundays’ exhibit, which focuses on the leisure time and church activities of Shepherdstown’s Black community. It features photos, quotes and artifacts from members of the Shepherdstown Red Sox, a local all-Black baseball team, and photos and information about the Brothers of Harmony, a well-known local gospel choir, ” Bertazzoni said, explaining that the combined exhibits will help viewers gain a more complete understanding of the local Black community’s unique experiences in the 20th century.
Both exhibits resulted from the hard work of one of the Historic Shepherdstown Commission’s most dedicated former presidents, according to Bertazzoni.
“Former Historic Shepherdstown Commission President Eleanor Finn proposed the oral history project to Dr. Alexander, and she also spearheaded ‘Busy Sundays,’ phase one of the museum’s African American exhibit, ” Bertazzoni said, mentioning the timing of when the exhibit research began was essential, as if the research had been conducted at a later date, much of the first-person information may have been lost, with the passing of more individuals who were educated both before and after the ruling took place.
According to Bertazzoni, Shepherdstown residents can also anticipate learning more about the exhibit’s research compilation in Sept. 2022, when Alexander will speak on the importance of oral history as part of Historic Shepherdstown’s annual Speaker Series.
The Historic Shepherdstown Museum is located at 129 East German Street, and is open Saturdays from noon to 4 pm and Sundays from 1-3 pm Admission is free, but donations of $ 4 per adult are recommended.