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Heritage Museum adding Permanent
Black History Exhibit
By Erika E. Durham
Courier Staff

February 19, 2003

A colorful corner has been added to the
Montgomery County Heritage Museum


The faces and facts of local black people will line the walls of the facility for the first time in history through a permanent exhibit.

The exhibit promises to present the public with a more colorful account of the county's history – the impact of black people. It will be celebrated at 6 p.m. Thursday at the museum, located at 1506 Interstate 45 N. in Conroe.

According to museum staff, the exhibits are an accurate and detailed account of what life was like for black people in Montgomery County. And it is long overdue, according to Gertie Spencer, director of the museum.

"This is something that we have been wanting for a long time. We always wanted a multilateral museum," she said. "But we (museum staff) can't tell it from our perspective, we needed some help," she said.

After years of attempting to form a committee of black residents to tell the story, Spencer received the help she needed from Dorothy Reece, Cynthia Stubblefield Walker, Gina Gibson, Lucille Bradley, Carl White, Tim Hatchett and Tina Mae Philpot, all longtime black residents of the county.

After the exhibit committee was formed, the funding for the project also fell in place.

The Conroe Arts and Culture matching funds program provided a $4,000 grant from the city of Conroe.

The grant was established to broaden cultural and artistic areas of the city. The grant was for $4,000, bringing the value of the exhibit to $8,000.

It is a local exhibit that includes the development of school, social life, family and the church.

"Historically, the church was the center and the focus of life for black people because that was the only thing that they could control," said Angie Walker, employee of the museum. "And our exhibit reflects that."

The history of the church is positioned in the middle of the building.

Included in the exhibit are: Mittie J. Campbell, who started one of the first schools for black children; Charles Brown, who coached Booker T. Washington High School to the state championship; Oscar Johnson, who was the county's first black elected official; and Jack Johnson, the former heavyweight boxing champion of the world who spent several years of his childhood in Willis.

The exhibit is somewhat interactive with a life size model of Johnson, a video of his accomplishments and the way he was treated after he won the title.

"People don't always want to look at the negative, but that is a part of the history too, and you can't avoid it," Walker said.

In an effort to let the public know about some of the injustices, Spencer and the committee included a letter written by a local Klu Klux Klan member.

"This is just wonderful," said Timothy Hatchett, a member of the exhibit committee. "So little is known about African American history because for so long we have been left out of the history of the state, nation and the world."

Spencer, Walker and members of the exhibit committee see the project as a major sign of growth for the museum and the community.

They say they have always strived to include the cultures that formed Montgomery County and want to have a Hispanic exhibit someday.

For more information about the exhibit and Heritage Museum, call (936) 539-6873.

©The Courier 2003


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