End of Year Report Cites “Historic” -Moton Museum Achievements in 2001

January 2002

On December 15 the board of directors of the Robert R. Moton Museum released its annual report, citing a year’s worth of achievements which President Samuel V. Wilson called “historic.” These included the board’s acquisition of the former Robert R. Moton High School to serve as a museum for the study of civil rights in education; the mounting of a three-room exhibit and the formal opening of the Museum for regular hours; and the winning of five grants worth more than a quarter of a million dollars.

After six years of fund-raising efforts, the board officially acquired the Moton School building on January 9. It was purchased from Prince Edward County for $300,000.

In the following three months, the board made sufficient repairs and renovations to the building to convert it to a functioning museum. A two-room display, the Museum’s first permanent exhibit, was funded by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and mounted by Lorie Mastemaker, curator of the Hampden-Sydney College Museum. The exhibit covers the struggle in Prince Edward for equal rights in education from 1939 to the present-from the opening of the all-black Moton High School in 1939 to the historic student strike there in 1951, the closing of the public schools from 1959 to 1964 to avoid desegregation, and the restoration of public education in the county, which now has a strong, desegregated school system.

A third room of exhibits includes both Moton High School memorabilia and five large photo banners of Rev. L. Francis Griffin, leader of the Civil Rights Movement in Prince Edward. The photo banners were designed and produced by the Longwood Center for the Visual Arts, which donated them to the Moton Museum.

The Museum was formally opened on April 23, as part of the commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Moton High School student strike. Several recent commentators have called that strike, for which the building has been named a National Historic Landmark, the beginning of the modern Civil Rights Movement. Rev. Eric Griffin, son of L. Francis Griffin, preached the sermon at a large community worship service on the evening of April 22. On the 23rd, a thousand people gathered on the Moton School / Museum grounds to listen to speeches from journalist and historian Juan Williams and others and to reenact the historic student walkout. The ceremonies, covered by the Associated Press, CNN, BET, and other local, state, and national media, climaxed with a walk to the Prince Edward County Court House. John Stokes and John Watson, two of the leaders of the 1951 strike, spoke about the walkout and its effects on public education in this country.

Since its formal opening in April, the Museum has been open seven hours each week, staffed by trained docents who also guide group tours by special arrangement. Visitors can also view a 23-minute film of the Prince Edward story. Nearly a thousand individuals have visited the Museum in the eight months of its existence, including a group of VISTA volunteers who had worked in the area 30 years earlier and a group of students from Baldwin-Wallace College in Ohio.

The Museum offers its space to community groups for functions related to its mission. In September James Phillips of the Conflict Resolution Institute at Virginia Commonwealth University led a discussion with students from Prince Edward County High School and the Fuqua School. Several similar programs have also been held.

The Museum won grants of $15,000 from the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, primarily to fund its first permanent exhibit; $10,000 from the National Park Service to help with costs of the commemoration of the strike anniversary; $17,500 from the NPS for the Prince Edward Oral History Project; and $25,000 for operating expenses from the Prince Edward Board of Supervisors. The Museum was also awarded a $200,000 grant in the Save America’s Treasures program, which is meant to “preserve nationally significant . . . intellectual and cultural artifacts,” according to the U. S. Department of the Interior. This grant, once it is matched by other donations, will allow the board to finish stabilizing the Museum’s physical condition.

Gen. Samuel V. Wilson, outgoing president of the board, called 2001 “an extraordinarily busy and productive year for this important museum.” Beginning January 1, Gen. Wilson will be succeeded as president by Carl U. Eggleston, who has been vice-president. He will be joined by new vice-president Rev. Peter Moon, continuing secretary Martha Cook, new assistant secretary Anita Winn, and continuing treasurer Hugh Kennedy.