People may wonder what goes into developing a great exhibit that
is interesting to many people, informative, accurate and timely. In
the case of the “Invisible Roots and Legends: A Photographic View of
African American History in Greenbrier Valley, West Virginia”
exhibit which will be on display at the Cooper Gallery in Lewisburg
from September 20, 2014 to October 4, 2014 it all started with a
Janice Cooley, Exhibit Curator and Board Member of the Greenbrier
Historical Society, had always had a passion for African American
history, especially in the Greenbrier Valley as that included the
roots of her family. Even before she retired, she started doing
research in the Archives of the Greenbrier Historical Society.
During this time she became very comfortable with using the archives
and working with Archivist Jim Talbert and other volunteers there.
When she retired and moved back to Lewisburg and into her parents’
home, she was able to devote more time to the project. In between
re-modeling projects and visits from friends, Cooley was pouring
over records and making contacts with others who had information and
photos to share.
Cooley said, “I found that contributions African Americans had
made for over 100 years to the growth and development of Greenbrier
County had not been truly recognized nor celebrated in the typical
venues throughout the county - neither through photographs nor
storytelling. As one Greenbrier Historical Society archives
researcher said to me “they are almost invisible” That comment
helped give me the title and focus for my effort--to create an
awareness, to educate, and to inspire members of our community”.
Soon, she made contact with Marilyn Cooper of the Cooper Gallery
who shared her enthusiasm for presenting African American history to
the public and offered to help. In addition to using her space to
host the exhibit, Cooper became actively involved by helping design
the story boards and organize them for printing. She re-produced,
enlarged and matted photos and used her experience in staging to
help organize them for the gallery.
Cooper said, “My
interest in history began at an early age. My grandmother told me
family stories about the migration of her mother and father from the
Greenbrier Valley to the Kanawha Valley by covered wagon. She also
said that a lot of the slaves took the family names when they were
emancipated. I have abhorred the prejudicial treatment of African
Americans all of my life so this exhibit is allowing me to give a
positive awareness of the contribution that has been made to our
beautiful valley by the African American community.”
Enter the Greenbrier Historical Society represented by Executive
Director Elizabeth McMullen and Board President Margaret Hambrick.
They were alerted to the project by Archivist Jim Talbert who was
working closely with Cooley. Recognizing an excellent opportunity
to educate, McMullen and Hambrick offered to help and co-sponsor the
exhibit. They have helped get out mailings and McMullen wrote a
grant requesting advertising funds.
Hambrick said, “This exhibit was not in our budget for this year
but helping with it was too good an opportunity to pass up. The
history of our area is not just the history of the majority but is
also the history, sometimes uncomfortable, of all those who lived
and worked in this valley.”
When the exhibit opens on September 20, people from all over the
eastern US will have been invited to examine this history, learn
from it, and use it to improve the future.