The Legacy Museum’s fifth major exhibit, “Mindin` Our Own Business: African American Business Enterprise in Central Virginia, 1820-1970,” opened to the public on Sunday, June 27.
The exhibition explores the written laws and local practices that impeded African Americans’ efforts to establish and run their own businesses, the stable market created by segregation, and the changes in black businesses brought about by the end of segregation.
Groups of artifacts will represent such businesses as funeral homes, insurance companies, barber and beauty shops, coal and wood companies, dry cleaners and laundries, and grocers that were in the city of Lynchburg and the counties of Amherst, Appomattox, Bedford, and Campbell. In addition, one section will feature Lynchburg’s fifth Street business district; another will depict places of entertainment such as Happyland Lake, the Silver Slipper, and the Sportsman’s Club.
Dianne Swann-Wright, director of African American and special programs at Monticello, is guest curator. She has organized sections of the exhibit so that they will have a vernacular title, such as “For a Rainy Day” for financial institutions, “Let the Good Times Roll” for entertainment, and “Rest In Peace” for funeral homes.
In addition to Swann-Wright, several other professionals serve as consultants for the exhibit. They are Betsy-Johnson Whitten, exhibit designer; Ted Delaney, archivist and curator of Lynchburg’s Old City Cemetery; Charles Bethea, director of the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia in Richmond; Debra Newman Ham, professor of history at Morgan State University in Baltimore; and Gregg D. Kimball, director of publications at the Library of Virginia in Richmond.
Volunteers who have worked as collectors have been working on the exhibits since last fall under the direction of Dianne Swann-Wright. The collectors included Cordelia Alexander, Carolyn Bell, Carolyn Brown, Cornelia Campbell, Frances Carter, Barbara Cofield, Joyce Dixon, Gloria Franklin, Cynthia Hall, Claudette Haskins, Shirley Johnson, Alice Mabry, Ora McCoy, Toni Pate, Christine Petticolas, Annie Pinn, Emmie Spencer, Cheryl Stallings, Willie Thornhill, Elaine Watson, Mary Watts, and Lena Williams.
Funded in significant part by a grant from the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the City of Lynchburg’s Community Development Block grant. The exhibit will allow museum-goers to learn about the market forces that drove black businesses, the role of women in the black business world, the differences between rural and urban business enterprises, and the concentration of Central Virginia’s black business establishments in such area as agriculture, entertainment, funerals, food service, and hair care.