On Thursday, October 13, 2011, Ed Lewis, founder of Essence Magazine keynoted the First Annual Community Banquet held by the Robert Russa Moton Museum. Lewis first commended Lacy Ward and the Board of Directors for their hard work to see the Moton museum blossom and grow into what it is today. He continued by sharing his memories of spending summers in Farmville from age five to age fifteen, working on his grandparents’ farm with his many cousins, including Barbara Johns. Farmville has always held a special place in his heart. “For this Bronx boy with roots in Virginia, the stories shared remembrances and the traditions of my second home, Farmville, have always remained with me and my family.”
Lewis went on to discuss community – what it means, why it is important, and how community spirit is key when changing history. “Ideas may germinate from one or two persons but most often it requires galvanizing the group for success to be realized, as was the case with Barbara Rose Johns,” he said. “In April 1951, my cousin, Barbara Rose Johns, then 16 years old, assembled 450 of her classmates at the Robert Russa Moton High School to protest the unequal quality of education and resources made to students of color because of federally mandated segregation laws. Ultimately, this would become the cause of freedom in education when the struggle n Farmville was enjoined by four other cases that would lead to Brown v. Board of Education and the desegregation of schools.”
It was the community, first within the walls of the Robert Russa Moton High School, then into Prince Edward County, and finally across the county, that helped bring integrated education to the entire nation.
Lewis highlighted the fact the museum that commemorates that momentous event was also born of a joined community effort. “This museum is the result of community effort of diverse groups recognizing a need and joining forces to realize a dream to fruition. It will stand as an example of what can be achieved when differences are secondary to the common good. It symbolized all that America is about: unity in diversity and it will serve to remind us to value our history, to learn from it and to move forward.” The museum is an example as to what can be achieved by a community. His words captured the theme of the evening, Our Community, Our Museum, Our Future, highlighting the important role that community plays in our lives as a source of inspiration, support, and strength. “The very definition [of community] underscores the principle that we do not stand alone, but together, in times of adversity and in times of
celebration,” he said.
Lewis’ speech concluded with a presentation by Ward. To thank Lewis for speaking at the event, Ward presented him with a slate from one of the chalkboards from the Moton High School. It served as a symbol of the importance of remembering the past in order to continue on into the future.
Nearly 400 people joined together for the banquet to celebrate the Prince Edward County community. The event, held at Longwood University, was sold-out. Every table was filled with smiling faces beaming with pride. The event, which was not advertised heavily, was largely successful due to word-of-mouth and table sponsorship from different groups in the community. Ultimately, one fifth of the crowd present had been invited by friends. As Ruth Murphy, president of the Fuqua School, said, “It is truly, as I look out at the crowd, a community event.”
Robert Hamlin, President of the Robert Russa Moton Museum, was the first to greet the guests at the community banquet. Speaking about the importance of community in the creation and development of the Moton Museum, Hamlin stated, “We chose the theme Our Community, Our Museum, Our Future because it is about what the Robert Russa Moton Museum is dedicated to preserve.” He introduced the past and present board members for the museum, citing their focus on the community as well. “These are the people who have worked tirelessly over the years to ensure that this community’s history is preserved,” Hamlin said.
After an invocation by Revered Bernard S. Hill, Sr. of High Rock Baptist Church and the pledge of allegiance led by Murphy, Professor Andrea Verschaeve of Longwood University stood to speak about the Moton Museum’s new initiative – (Y)Our Story. She spoke of the museum’s dedication to telling the Prince Edward story in a manner that accurately represents the community and its history. In order to achieve this, the Moton museum started collecting the memories of those who experienced the strike and the events thereafter to include in the museum. A card was laid at each place at each table to give those in attendance the opportunity to share their story with the museum. Ward echoed the importance of the initiative stating, alternatively, an individual could call or write to the museum to share their story. Regardless of the means, the museum wants to hear everyone’s voice.
Ward, who served as master of ceremonies for the banquet, took time during the program to thank the Vice Mayor of Farmville, A.D. “Chuckie” Reid, for his help in making the event a success. He encouraged the community to come out and attend the event and his efforts proved fruitful. To thank him, Ward presented Reid with gift – a plaque with a table on it as a representation of his contributions to this event, the Robert Russa Moton Museum, and the community.
Cynthia Johnson, Assistant Principal of Prince Edward County High School, introduced Ed Lewis, the keynote speaker for the event. In addition to describing Lewis’ achievements, Johnson made a special point to highlight Lewis’ connection to Prince Edward County – he is Barbara Johns’ first cousin.
As the banquet concluded, one thing was certain – this event was, in every possible way, created by the community for the community to celebrate the community.