Farmville—The Moton Museum recently received a grant from the National Endowment for Humanities that will support the development of an online exhibition to aid in telling the story of how Prince Edward County was the birthplace of America’s student-led civil rights movement.
The $53,000 grant will be used to develop a virtual exhibit that compliments and enhances the museum’s permanent exhibition “Moton School Story: Children of Courage.” The museum was one of 300 cultural institutions across the country selected to receive $40.3 million in CARES Act economic stabilization grants from NEH.
The development of an online exhibit has been a long-term goal for the museum, but the timetable was accelerated rapidly due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The museum has been closed to in-person visitors since March. While the staff has transitioned to hosting a series of online educational programs, a virtual exhibit will allow school-age children to engage with the museum’s content directly.
“Even after the Museum reopens this summer and schools begin to return to in-person instruction in phases this fall, we anticipate that due to the coronavirus pandemic school field trips and our ability to visit schools will be limited,” said Cameron Patterson, managing director of the Moton Museum. “This reality will restrict the museum staff’s ability to deliver on-site and off-site in-person programming for some time. A content-rich online exhibition will give our staff a powerful tool around which to design educational programs that can approximate an in-person field trip experience.”
In March, NEH received $75 million in supplemental grant funding through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. NEH received more than 2,300 applications for CARES Act funding from cultural institutions impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and the Moton Museum was among the approximately 14 percent of applicants funded.
“Over the past few months we have witnessed tremendous financial distress at cultural organizations across the country, which have been compelled to furlough staff, cancel programs, and reduce operations to make up for revenue shortfalls caused by the pandemic,” said NEH Chairman Jon Parrish Peede. “NEH is pleased to provide $40 million to preserve thousands of jobs at museums, archives, historic sites, and colleges and universities that are vital to our nation’s cultural life and economy.”
The NEH has been a long-time supporter of the museum, which received an initial planning grant from the NEH in 2009 and an implementation grant in 2012.
The conceptual framework and design elements for an online exhibit were completed after the opening of the museum’s permanent exhibition in 2013. The design, build out, testing, and review of the website content is expected to be completed by December 31, 2020. The online exhibit will be designed by Studio Ammons, based in Petersburg. The same firm also designed Moton’s permanent exhibition.
The online exhibit will enable visitors to explore the galleries in a chronological way, similar to how they would physically move through the exhibition if they visited the museum. It will also have features that allow visitors to search across the galleries for documents, people, places, events and court cases. The online exhibition will also incorporate the most powerful aspect of the museum’s visitor experience—the stories of individuals who were locked out of Prince Edward County schools from 1959 to 1964.
In a message to the Longwood University community last week President W. Taylor Reveley IV said that going forward every student will have the opportunity to engage with the museum that honors Prince Edward’s consequential civil rights history. It is believed that Longwood is the only university in the country that has a formal partnership with a civil rights museum.
“The museum has something to teach all of us,” Reveley wrote. “It teaches about the particularly powerful and often painful history of African-Americans fighting segregation here in our community at a key moment in American history. And more broadly it shows how all young people and their advocates can use the levers of democracy to make meaningful change when faced with whatever forms of discrimination and injustice they may encounter at their own moment in history.”
The museum is housed in the former Robert Russa Moton High School, a National Historic Landmark and the site of the 1951 student-led strike that produced three-fourths of the plaintiffs in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case. The online exhibit will enable the museum to continue to share the stories of sacrifice, determination and resilience of 16-year-old Barbara Johns and the other Moton strikers.
“More than ever, those stories resonate with a generation of young individuals who are now on the frontlines of shaping the future of the nation in which we live,” said Patterson. “In this moment our work with young students across the commonwealth and beyond will allow us to reckon with our past and to shape a better future. We are happy that we will have this new, innovative and creative online tool to help us fulfill our mission.”