Legacy’s Collection Committee met on January 10 to exchange ideas and compare notes on the progress of interviewing and acquiring artifacts for the new exhibit, Much in Demand, set to open on June 20 during Lynchburg’s annual Juneteenth celebration. The exhibit examines the roles and experiences of Central Virginia African Americans who have served in the military.
The outgoing president of Legacy’s board of directors, Joe Berryman, who served in the Army Air Corps, agreed that there were many problems for African Americans in American society at that time, but he also pointed to the example of the Tuskegee pilots. Their mission was to escort bombers on their way to targets. They never lost a plane, and this excellent reputation made them “much in demand” from bomber pilots. Mr. Berryman pointed out that the success of this one group during World War II permanently changed the way white soldiers viewed African American soldiers. Sweet Briar history professor Kate Chavigny mentioned the work of historian, William Freehling. Freehling concluded that without African American soldiers, the Union would have been defeated in the Civil War.
Finally, Dianne Swann-Wright asked the group to think about the impact such an exhibition might have on the community. There was general agreement that the exhibit has the potential not only to impart pride to the many veterans who live in the area but also to pass this sense of pride on to young African Americans who might otherwise be unaware of the veterans’ contributions. In order to achieve such goals, the group foresees sponsoring community meetings and discussions based on particular aspects of the exhibition and/or connected with events like Veterans Day and Pearl Harbor Day.
At work since last September, Collection Committee members have conducted interviews with local veterans, asking questions ranging from simple facts concerning, time, date, length, and place of service to more personal inquiries. For example, veterans were asked to comment upon their best and worst experiences and upon what gave them the greatest sense of pride. Those interested in their answers must come and see the exhibit!
Committee members have already benefited from their research. All agreed that collecting and interviewing for the exhibit had changed the way they viewed the role of African Americans in the military and had illuminated the ways history can bring people together and affect identity.