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By Lisa King
If you want to learn a bit about African-American history in Shelby County without having to crack a book, Sunday may be your best bet.
A special exhibit at Stratton Center in Shelbyville will endeavor to illuminate and explain black history in the more 221 years of the county’s history.
“So many people have worked hard to contribute to this; we hope at least half of Shelbyville shows up,” Sanda Jones, a member of the Shelby County Historical Society, said of the exhibit.
Set for 2-5 p.m. and called, Community Tapestry, “A Celebration of Local Black History,” the presentation is, Diane Coon said, aptly named.
“We had to cut down on the number of speakers we had planned because we had so many exhibits,” she said.
Those exhibits will give visitors a glimpse inside the heart of Shelby County’s African-American community of years past, its traditions, families, schools, churches, community activities and so much more, she said.
“Kerry Magan – he’s one of the co-chairs he has put together this wonderful map that shows where the early African-American schools and churches were,” she said. “It’s not finished. We’ll be working on it for the next year or so, but it’s really something to see.”
Coon said someone will be present at each exhibits to answer questions about photographs or other items and, in some cases, even to tell stories.
“Willie Fleming, he’s an alumnus of the Lincoln Institute, and he has some wonderful stories,” she said. “He and his uncles were part of the old African-American baseball teams back then.”
Magan said putting together the event and gathering the photos and artifacts for it has been an experience in itself.
“What folks have told us about how their families lived back then in Shelby County has been just fascinating,” he said. “We’ll not only have some great information about people like Elijah Marrs, for one, but also some wonderful people there to talk about the exhibits, like Brenda Jackson and Willie Fleming. So we’ll have a good cross-stitch of the community, and we’ll learn about the everyday life of those families in Shelby County.”
Magan said last summer the historical society put together a committee of a group of community leaders to help put the event together for a special exhibit to mark Black History Month.
“They really believe in what we are doing,” he said.
Jones, also a co-chair of the event, said she wouldn’t be surprised if the emotional impact of the event inspired some visitors to tell some of their own history.
“I think such an atmosphere will be enough to make you want to share your own stories,” she said.
Coon said she is looking forward to stories she anticipates from Roland Dale and Jackson, who were among the first African-Americans to integrate into Shelby County High School.
“They will have some wonderful things to share,” she said.
Janice Harris, president of the Shelby County Chapter of the NAACP, said she will have some artifacts and other historical items.
“We put together some really great things to share,” she said.
Coon said someone – she thinks it’s Inez Harris – is bringing a unique antique quilt that is a delight to behold.
“It’s early Twentieth Century, with feed bags for backing, all handmade and just beautiful,” she said.
Coon said she is looking forward to listening to the keynote speaker for the event, Shelia Mason Burton, president of the Kentucky Historical Society, and to seeing an exhibit by a Louisville Girl Scout, Julia Bache, whose display is part of a national Girl Scouts project she is doing, which includes information about an historic school near Finchville. The Buck Creek Rosenwald School that educated black children in the early 1900s.
“We hope everyone will come out to see all these wonderful things and hear what are sure to be amazing stories,” Jones said.
WHAT:Cultural exhibit about black history in Shelby County
WHEN:2-5 p.m. Sunday
WHERE:Stratton Center, Shelbyville