Central Museum: preserving area history

Published 2:24 pm Wednesday, February 13, 2019

George E. Smith doesn’t take credit for collecting the numerous artifacts on exhibit at the Central High School Museum – but he is admittedly familiar with every piece.

“I volunteered to help make it look as close to an authentic museum as possible, so every piece they have in there, I touched,” he said. “Everything in there I cut, pasted, framed.”

A retired educator and 1968 graduate of the school, Smith’s work was the preverbal labor of love.

It was he who built the three exhibits titled Wall of Slavery, Wall of Struggle, and Wall of Hope. Each wall tells a story of African-American life in the county: the Wall of Slavery, the brutality of the Middle Passage and enslavement; the Wall of Struggle, the hardships of life after emancipation and the struggle for education, and the Wall of the Hope tells of triumph and success.

Of course, the three walls are intended to convey a progression of history to visitors, and the sundry items and artifacts along the way – be them yearbooks, textbooks, microscopes, athletic wear – are intended to convey the point, Smith said: the struggle has been, and is, real.

“We have arrived, but we are still not quite there yet,” he notes. “From whence we come now.”

Opening to the public on June 20, 2016, the museum has a mission of locating, retrieving, preserving, displaying and explaining its more than 2,500 items on display and fostering and promoting a greater understanding of the contributions of the African-American experience and impact on the cultural, educational and socio-economic aspects of Charlotte and neighboring counties.

Housed in the remodeled building once known as the bus shop and the agriculture building, the museum is open for visits from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. the first and third Saturdays of each month.

The museum’s website has research and reference materials available such as old yearbooks, newspaper clippings and notices, copies of publications by Central High graduates, and the book by David L. Hancock of news concerning African-Americans, compiled from The Charlotte Gazette, May 1873 – December 1900.

Right now, supporters are gearing up for the upcoming Black History Month program Saturday, Feb. 23, at White Oak Grove Baptist Church.

Neighboring Prince Edward County may have Farmville’s Robert Russa Moton museum, the site from which protesting students walked out and eventually became part of the famous Brown v. Education suit tearing down segregated public education. But Smith notes that Moton and Central have their own, and separate, story.

“We’re not trying to copy them,” he noted. “We’re just trying to tell the story about Charlotte.”

Meanwhile, Smith said, supporters would like to see the museum eventually receive grant funds to install a humidity system to help preserve documents, papers and pictures; lighting to enhance the displays; and an audio-visual system that would allow for television screens, overhead projectors and music – as well as a storage building so that artifacts can be rotated in and out.

But for now, the goal is something more humble: stipends to offset the dependence on the all-volunteer force that provides for the hours of operation.

To that end, Cam Johnson, a planner with the Commonwealth Regional Council, recently met with the museum’s board of directors to discuss grant opportunities.

The council assists local units of government in planning, and managing, new programs and projects; and securing grants and loan for those programs and projects.

Johnson’s meeting with the board was at the behest of Nancy Carwile, a member of the board of supervisors, in hopes he can help find and secure small museum grants.

But no matter what, Smith said the museum is a reminder to all progress will not and cannot be turned back.

“I call this the only place in Charlotte County you can visit and read about the black community over the years,” he said. “From whence we can hope; we struggle and hope is still alive – even today.”