January 23, 2002
Courtesy of Farmville Herald
FARMVILLE-The words were written by different hands. Some with the tremor of age. Others with the firmness and vigor of youth. But they all say the same thing.
The Robert Russa Moton Museum is a very good thing.
The museum’s board released a year-end report citing a list of what it describes as “historic” achievements in 2001, including purchase of the former school from Prince Edward County, the formal opening of the museum, and grants worth more than $250,000.
But the words of visitors to the museum, written in a book on site since its grand opening on April 23, describe what the building and its displays actually mean to the people who walk through the doors.
“God is good,” someone wrote on April 23, a day that also commemorated the 50th anniversary of the student strike which an increasing number of historians believe gave birth to the civil rights movement. “He blessed you all with this wonderful museum.”
A power higher than man was frequently invoked in comments written by visitors on that April day.
“What a blessed day. To God be the glory.”
“This is indeed a blessed event.”
“What a blessing. Look at what you’re doing for our future.”
“Thank God for this day.”
“Keep it going. Praise the Lord.”
“Look what the Lord has done.”
The museum, which is regularly open every Wednesday and Friday from 1-3 p.m. and on Saturdays from noon to 3 p.m., has continued to impress visitors.
“Terrific. One more miracle. Thank God,” a visitor wrote in May.
“Moving. Touching. It made me understand some of what I grew up with, even through I was in Maryland, not Virginia. It is an important piece of American history,” wrote another visitor on the same day.
The state of Virginia is devoting increasing time and money to market African American heritage, one of the fastest developing tourism destinations in the country.
The Moton Museum, in fact, will be the anchor to an African American Heritage Trail tour involving more than a dozen localities.
The impact of the museum beyond the region and the state is evidenced by comments such as this by a visitor from Illinois in June: “This being my first trip to Virginia, I’ve seen several interesting historical sites. I recall learning about Brown vs. Board (decision) in school back home (Illinois) but had no idea of the early events in this area which in many ways seems to have begun and contributed to Civil Rights in Education. I am pleased that this historic site is here for preservation of historical events which helped shape our nation. I am glad to have had the privilege of visiting a part of history.”
The museum was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1998. The student strike against separate and unequal school facilities led to county families and the community becoming part of the Brown vs. Board case which resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 decision striking down segregated public schools.
“Thanks for making this a historical museum. The former and future students of Farmville deserve it,” a visitor wrote in June.
“Thank you for preserving this historical site,” wrote someone else.
“This building holds so many wonderful memories…I am so happy that it is being preserved as a civil rights museum,” penned another visitor on the same day.
In the fall, the Moton Museum won a major grant through the Saving America’s Treasures program and the museum is working, under its new president Carl U. Eggleston, to secure the necessary matching funds.
“I love to come and see how certain movements began. I learned something very interesting,” wrote a visitor.
“As a former student of this historic school I am very uplifted to visit…” wrote someone else.
“Keep up the great work,” responded a visitor in July.
“A marvelous story of real life struggles. Thank you for preserving this historical site,” wrote someone else who viewed the exhibits, which include a documentary.
“Great history! Continue your good work,” wrote another Moton Museum enthusiast.
“This is something to be proud of. Many should come…To all who had a part in this, a job well done,” declared someone else.
“I found this tour to be most insightful and it really gave me a real idea of the beginning of this desegregated movement,” wrote another visitor.
“Most enlightening. This exhibit rekindles my desire to continue to serve mankind,” affirmed on visitor.
The museum is indebted to Clara Ligon for giving so much of her time to ensure the museum is open regularly. And her contribution did not go unnoticed.
“Thank you Ms. Ligon for sharing your knowledge of the Moton School’s amazing roots. I found the museum and its history to be very moving and am happy to know of Farmville’s role in civil rights advances. Much continued success,” wrote an August visitor.
For former students, the visit can be very moving.
“Visiting the museum today, being able to step into my old classrooms,” wrote a former student, “all of it will help to bring healing…”
Ms. Ligon has heard the voices, seen the expressions on the faces that go along with the written reflections praising the museum. From those who’ve come to Farmville for the first time and for those returning to their high school building.
“It’s a profound thing,” for former students, she said Tuesday. “It is (healing). They look at this as something very special and very important to them.”
And a source of great happiness.
“You’d be surprised to hear the laughter and joy” among former classmates, she said.
Former students stand in the museum, knowing it was once their school, realizing it is history, a record of progress and achievement of national consequence.
“That feeling…that this is where we were and,” Ms. Ligon said, “this is where we’ve come to.”
And more people keep coming to it every day. A bus load of 60 students from Petersburg was scheduled to arrive this Wednesday.
More names for the visitors book. More words of praise for the Moton Museum.