On Friday, September 30, 2011, people from across the Commonwealth of Virginia gathered in Gallery I of the Robert Russa Moton Museum to celebrate the completion of Phase I of Moton 2011, an 8,500 square foot permanent exhibit of the Moton story.
The event opened with a welcome by Robert Hamlin, President of the Moton Museum. “We thank you for coming out and sharing this day with us,” he said. “It is such an important story, not only for Prince Edward County or the town of Farmville but for the entire nation.”
The celebration continued with an invocation from the Reverend William Thompson, Chaplain Emeritus of Hampden-Sydney College, in which he described the Moton Museum as “holy ground” and urged the audience to treat it as such. This was followed by the pledge of allegiance led by Cynthia Johnson, Assistant Principal of Prince Edward County High School, and Larissa Smith Fergeson, Assistant Professor at Longwood University. Jewel Moore, a ninth grade student at the Fuqua School, sang a rendition of America the Beautiful. The passion and clarity with which Moore sang encapsulated the pride held by all in the county’s role in bringing civil rights to education and in the modern day efforts to commemorate that contribution. With the inclusion of individuals from Hampden-Sydney College, Longwood University, Prince Edward County Public Schools, and the Fuqua School, this truly became an event celebrating the educational community of Prince Edward County.
Paul Hoffman of the office of Representative Robert Hurt of the 5th District of Virginia brought Congressman Hurt’s greetings to all those in attendance, pronouncing, “The Moton Museum preserves this important moment in our civil rights history and reminds us all of our continued commitment to our nation’s founding principles of freedom and equal opportunity to all.” Senator Mark Warner sent a similar sentiment through Patrice Lewis, his outreach representative, stating, “The Robert Russa Moton Museum provides a wonderful opportunity to reflect on the history of civil rights in education in Prince Edward County and the role its citizens played in America’s struggle to move from a segregated to an integrated society. You are to be commended for helping preserve our civil rights history.”
Ellen Davis, State Director of the USDA – Rural Development, sent her own greetings to the crowd, praising the museum for its message and commenting on the far reaching effects of the school closings in Prince Edward County. “The impact of the event that occurred in the ’50s will continue to ripple and effect people’s lives,” she said. Shaun Rai, Vice President and Commercial Loan Officer for Virginia Community Capital, spoke of its dual role in the community – one of historic preservation and economic activity. Cynthia Balderson, Philanthropy Manager of the Dominion Foundation, gave the final remarks, highlighting the importance of teaching the story of the 1951 strike to the next generation to gain a better appreciation of where the country is now.
Together, each of the speakers made clear the important place that Moton holds in the history of Prince Edward County and our nation as a whole.
As the remarks came to a close, the curtains on the auditorium stage parted to allow the crowd to preview the film Strike: April 23, 1951 by Tim Reid, a movie reenacting the famous student strike that led to the desegregation of our nation’s schools. The film was met with applause from the crowd at its conclusion.
The event closed with remarks by Lacy Ward, Jr., Director of the Moton Museum. He thanked all who helped the museum reach this point in its journey through their time, effort, dedication, and donations and awarded plaques to Davis, Rai, and Balderson to thank their institutions for their integral roles in providing necessary funding. Ward took time to highlight and give thanks to, in particular, Barbara Johns and the students who served as plaintiffs in the Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County for their roles in bringing civil rights to education. Later commenting on his own role in helping the museum reach this point in achieving its goals, Ward simply said, “I am humbled to be able to bring these pieces together.”
Extolling the success of Phase I and the progress made in creating the museum, Hamlin remarked, “It is certainly gratifying to get to this level, to see we’re reaching our goal, and that this dream is coming to fruition. Three years ago, it was just a dream and now we can see a light at the end of the tunnel.”