This Friday, the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia (BHMVA) puts overlooked stories in the limelight with the opening of their photographic exhibition, “Yesterday’s Stories, Today’s Inspiration.” The exhibit—which will be presented in two phases—features more than 150 photographs, capturing a timeline of black history in Richmond and the surrounding regions from the late 1800s to the early 1900s.
“Yesterday’s Stories, Today’s Inspiration” is a collaboration between the Black History Museum’s extensive archive and photographs contributed by the community. They not only invited photos scanned from family albums, but asked Richmond to share their stories and memories of the people and places that make up the Commonwealth’s extensive black history.
“We have a collection of thousands of photographs…and some of them have not been displayed, so we thought what better way to show our appreciation of Richmond and Virginia than to cull through these photographs to do our own special collection,” said interim executive director Adele Johnson. “Then we took it a step further and…did an open invitation to the Richmond community to invite them to share their photographs with us, and many of them did.”
Johnson said that while most Richmonders are aware of the big names in black history, the full scope of the rich, multi-faceted narrative is often left behind.
“We want them to learn new stories,” said Johnson. “I read a statistic not too long ago, that one in every four African Americans has a tie back to Virginia. I think that’s because Virginia is so rich in history. There are so many successful people that have a Richmond connection, and we want people to learn about them and, just as importantly, we want them to be inspired by those people.”
The first phase emphasizes the work of James Conway Farley and George O. Brown. Brown was a Richmond photographer prominent in the 19th century, who spent a lifetime chronicling African American history.
“New York City had James Van Der Zee, Washington D.C. had the Scurlocks, and Richmond had the Browns,” said historian and curator Elvatrice Belsches in the exhibit’s press release. “Their remarkable talents, captured in this exhibit along with others, act as a unique prism through which to view the fullness of the history of the Black experience in Richmond and beyond.”
This phase also includes education and worship. Johnson said the series featuring the Richmond Normal School, now Armstrong High School, is one highlight of the exhibit. “To think that the school is still in existence after all of these years is really something.”
The second installation of the exhibition—scheduled to follow soon after the opening of the first phase—will include professionals and entrepreneurs, organizations, and the military. “It’s really a broad brush of African American life,” said Johnson.
“There are stories about struggle, and there are stories about success,” said Johnson. “We want people to know more so they can be proud of our city and state. We want these stories to become part of America’s history, not just black history.”
The opening reception for “Yesterday’s Stories, Today’s Inspiration” is this Friday from 6-8. The exhibit will run through May.
Top Photo By: Black History Museum & Cultural Center