Legacy Reflections 2005

“Lord, Plant My Feet on Higher Ground.”

It is wonderful to see all our supporters here tonight, and yes, we are continuing to “gain ground,” thanks to all of you and many others who give generously of their time, skill, and money.

I have been asked to share some reflections on the path we have taken since the birth of the Legacy Project.

It seems liked an ever-unfolding miracle.

The dream began in 1982. I was a fellow at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (VCCA) at Sweet Briar. It was there that the idea crystallized for a large painting honoring the local African American civil rights heroes of the 1960s and 1970s.

Garnell Stamps, Junius Haskins, Charles Mangum, and Barry Donald Jones came to my studio at the VCCA. They were enthusiastic about the concept, and it was endorsed by the Lynchburg NAACP.

Garnell was inspired to give the painting the name of that great Baptist hymn, “Lord, Plant My Feet on Higher Ground.” Over the years, the group met periodically to assemble names of individuals who played a role in the struggle.

In 1993, the large triptych was completed, and the unveiling took place at Lynchburg College. We were apprehensive about how the work would be received by the public, but the response was overwhelmingly positive. Other exciting programs were held at the Fine Arts Center, Randolph-Macon Woman’s College, and Court Street Baptist Church.

Haywood Robinson, Jr., came on board early on. He coined the name “Legacy Project” while a few of us were brainstorming around Garnell’s kitchen table. Then work began on establishing by-laws, and we incorporated as a non-profit 501c3 corporation in 1995.

Carolyn Bell, Joe Berryman, Claudette Haskins, Carla Heath, Willie Thornhill, and I were founding members of the Board who are still serving.

We had no building then and met in various places-at the Virginia Seminary, at Lyn-CAG, and in people’s homes. It was a struggle, and I well remember a low point in December 1995 when the only board members that showed up for a meeting at Junius’ office were Carolyn Bell and I. But Junius was not one to give up easily, and Legacy went on to persuade the Lynchburg City Council to hang the painting in City Hall, where it stayed for many months.

Then tragedy struck. Junius died suddenly in January 1997. We had lost our leader.

Then out of the blue I got a phone call. It was Jane White. Did she have an offer for us: a dilapidated house next to the Old City Cemetery, currently used as a base for drug dealings and other illicit activities. But the price was right. We could get title to the property for free if we would agree to fix it up and operate it as a museum.

That would be a challenge, to say the least. On my first visit to the house with Kelvin Moore, the architect, and Aubrey Barbour, Tinbridge Hill community leader, the interior was dark and rotting, filled with junk, and smelled terrible. But the windows were original, the staircase fabulous, and the location, layout, and design perfect for our needs. So we decided to go on.

Joe Berryman took over as our president, and we summoned up the nerve to sign the agreement on the house.

We were all novices then in the museum business and relied heavily for guidance on Betsy Johnson from the Lynchburg Museum System. I remember we received an order of storage equipment, and Carla Heath dramatically demonstrated for us the use of white gloves to handle artifacts. We looked at her with a mixture of awe and amusement. It was all so new to us.

I could probably go on for hours reminiscing. There are wonderful memories, and we have had great people helping us along the way–people such as Jim Mundy who let us use a room at Lyn-CAG for an office before the museum was completed, and his wife, Thelma, who did such a great job as our first museum administrator.

But we are still gaining ground.

We have been fully operational now since our opening in 2000. We have had well-attended exhibitions and programs. We have acquired additional land and are in the process of obtaining the adjacent house to expand our offerings, and we have been honored to receive a $100,000 challenge grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).

We have an enthusiastic and committed board of directors under the leadership of Claudette Haskins, hard-working docents and collections committee members, and a fine museum administrator, Cheryl Stallings. We are fortunate in having Dianne Swann-Wright as guest curator, ably assisted by Betsy Johnson-Whitten.

I hope you will all remain with us as we continue to head for “higher ground.”

-By Ann van de Graaf

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