Exhibits on display at Black History Museum

Published 4:55pm Friday, February 21, 2014

In honor of Black History Month, the Elmore County Black History Museum will offer a display of hats from well-known black community leaders today (Feb. 22) from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. In addition, vintage dishes and cooking utensils will be featured.

Items are from collections by museum curator Billie Rawls. These special displays are intended to enhance the permanent collections of clothing, furniture, quilts and other artifacts on display.

The focus of the museum is to make each month of the year Black History Month. The museum is open year-round on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Special events and activities are planned to draw attention to the contributions of Elmore County citizens.

Over the years many Elmore County black residents made an impact in the lives of citizens in the black communities in particular and the city and county in general. The names of many of those individuals and their contributions are on display in the Elmore County Black History Museum.

The museum is located on Lancaster Street near the city cemetery. The building houses artifacts, paintings, obituaries and other information from families that lived throughout the county.

The building is unique in that it is a former Rosenwald School. The name comes from a school building program that emerged from the partnership of Booker T. Washington, then president of Tuskegee (Institute) University and Julius Rosenwald, then president of Sears Roebuck in 1924.

During a visit to Tuskegee, Rosenwald learned there were no formal schools in the southeast to educate black children. After discussions and planning, the two men embarked on a building program that resulted in more than 300 schools being built throughout the southeast in the 1920s and ’30s.

The Rosenwald school building program was introduced to black communities with the understanding the community was responsible for initial fundraising with Tuskegee Institute offering technical assistance and the Rosenwald program providing additional funding.

Nine such schools were built in Elmore County. The Elmore County Training School, built in 1924, was the only brick school constructed in the county and still stands today. For many years the facility was used as the Wetumpka Recreation Center under the leadership Isom Thomas. His leadership served as a mentoring program for many Elmore County black youth

In 1986 there was talk of the building being demolished. Former Mayor Jeanette Barrett contacted residents in the black community with a plan to keep the historic building a permanent and vibrant part of the community. Thus the Elmore County Black History Museum was born and officially opened in December 1986 during the annual Christmas on the Coosa celebration.

In 1915 when historian Dr. Carter G. Woodson, proposed the idea of a specific time to focus on black history, it was intended to neutralize the apparent ignorance and deliberate distortion of black history. It took nine years for the idea to become reality.

The original idea was for a Black History Week. Dr. Woodson, a Harvard trained PhD, chose the second week in February to pay tribute to the birthdays of two Americans he felt dramatically affected the lives of black America – Abraham Lincoln (Feb. 12) and Fredrick Douglas (Feb. 14). The week long observance was extended and officially became Black History Month in 1976.

Stop by and visit the historic facility on Tuesdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and chat with quilters from the Thread My Needle Quilting group. Saturday hours are 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

On April 21, the museum will host an induction ceremony for the Elmore County Black History Museum’s Hall of Fame.

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