Crowd celebrates FAHI museum's christening

June 20, 2013

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

“I’m standing here trying not to cry,” said Martinsville Commonwealth’s Attorney Joan Ziglar as she toured FAHI’s African American Museum and Multi-Cultural Center during its grand opening Wednesday.

“To ... see what this community can accomplish when we work together is amazing,” she said. The museum/center is a product of a lot of hard work by people of different races, she said, adding that the museum/center is “proof” that people of different races can work together.

Nearly 90 people attended the grand opening, which also marked the completion of renovations to the museum’s new home in the former Imperial Savings and Loan building at 211 Fayette St.

Jean Hairston of Martinsville was in the crowd of visitors. “I think the museum is a major focal point for all Martinsville and Henry County. It tells history. It’s for the total community, not just for African-Americans, for everybody. I’m excited,” she said.

A former student of Hairston, Horsepasture District Supervisor Debra Buchanan, said the museum/center “gives us added exposure of the rich heritage of the Martinsville-Henry County area.

“This is an excellent turnout. A lot of wonderful history is here,” Buchanan said. The fact that the museum/center is near the site of New College Institute’s new building being constructed on the Baldwin Block is “a plus,” she said.

“What I hope is, this is the start of a revitalization of this area of Fayette Street,” said Curtis Millner Sr., chairman of the Fayette Area Historical Initiative board. And with NCI’s “big, beautiful” building being constructed a couple of blocks away, he hopes “neighbors will take interest and revitalize.”

“It’s like a gold mine,” he said.

With NCI growing, more people will come to the area, and they will need places to stay, eat and shop, Millner said.

He hopes the museum — with several public computers and many books, artifacts and exhibits about history and lifestyles — will be a place where people, including NCI students, can to do black studies and learn about local history, he said.

Naomi Hodge-Muse, president of the Martinsville-Henry County NAACP, also said she sees the museum/center as part of the revitalization of Fayette Street.

“It’s our museum, just like that museum,” she said, referring to the Martinsville-Henry County Historical Society’s uptown museum. Every culture has its own history, she said.

“I hope our museums can work together to teach history of this area and promote tourism,” said JoAnne Philpott, president of the board of directors of the Martinsville-Henry County Historical Society.

Debbie Hall, executive director of the MHC historical society, called the FAHI museum “wonderful” and “another big boost for the community.”

“I’m thrilled,” Harvest Foundation President Allyson Rothrock said of the museum/center. It is important to remember the community’s history and build on it, she said. Harvest was one of the funders of the project.

Tony Millner, FAHI board member and former president of the local NAACP, said the museum will help educate people about contributions and achievements by African Americans and “let people know this was a central business district for African Americans.”

He also said the museum/center is a testament to “perseverance.” He mentioned a number of challenges in accomplishing the museum project, including fund raising and bringing the building up to code. “We made it,” he added.

The Rev. Tyler Millner, who said he was one of the founders of the museum, said it helps pay homage to contributions of African Americans; the vitality of Fayette Street in its heyday (such as June German balls); and Imperial Savings and Loan.

Nelson Thomas, who retired as a major from the Henry County Sheriff’s Office, said the museum will be a resource for people who want to learn about history.

Chad Martin, vice president of the Give Back Foundation, and several other people recalled the quotation that people who don’t learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.

“I’m learning from this,” said Roosevelt Stockton of Martinsville as he toured the museum. “I think it’s very nice to have this.”

Veronica Hale of Martinsville pointed out to her granddaughters a large tin wash tub like one she used when she was growing up, as well as a foot-powered sewing machine like one her grandmother had. Hale said she hopes people today appreciate modern comforts.

William Wampler, NCI executive director, said: “It was a very exciting event to see so many people from the community gather to recognize the hard work of FAHI to bring the Imperial Savings and Loan building to the state that we find it in today. It is a wonderful testament to the history of this community. We look forward to a continued and long-lasting relationship (with FAHI).”


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