Dignitaries and volunteers were among the 75 or so guests at the ribbon cutting for the 7000 square foot Harrison Museum of African American Culture now relocated to the Center in the Square. The Square had its grand opening on Saturday May 18.
With scissors in hand Mayor David Bowers said, “We have transitioned from those dark days of segregation to now, a day in which we can celebrate diversity.”
Jim Sears, president of Center in the Square, said the decision to relocate the Harrison Museum to Center in the Square came down to foot traffic. “If only by accident people wonder into the space here, you probably will be able to reach out to more people and tell the story – an incredible and important story about the Harrison Museum and the influence the African American population has had on our culture in Roanoke and Western Virginia.”
Charles Price, Chairman of the Board of the Harrison Museum, was totally commitment to the project, said Sears. He praised Roanoke City for its $2.5 million commitment to Center in the Square with about $500,000 going toward the Harrison Museum.
As all readied to cut the ribbon Mayor Bowers instructed that the doors be opened and everyone step inside the Museum to the ribbon strung across the doorway. “I’ve done this before,” said Bowers laughing. Under his expert supervision it took at least two minutes to get everyone lined up and then on the count of three – snip, “Welcome to the Harrison Museum.”
Senator John Edwards said that after WWII his father, as mayor, integrated the police department and libraries. “This is the history of our city, a city of progress, a city of diversity and Harrison Museum of African American Culture is especially important to us.”
Price said to get to this point “it was because of all the volunteers, and the Board here today had a great deal to do with that … it’s not a one person show.” He thanked the former Executive Director of the Taubman Museum, David Mickenberg for serving as a consultant.
Mickenberg said inside the Museum it is “about community, it’s about bridge building and it’s about history and learning from those old histories. It’s about where history is going and about cultural identity, as in the sculpture by Diane Smith. It’s about the past, the present and the future.”
The museum’s roots stretch back to 1985 when the Northwest Neighborhood Improvement Council and Total Action Against Poverty was established. HMAAC was previously located at the Harrison School built in 1916. The School was completed in 1917 with Miss Lucy Addison serving as principal. It is listed on the National and Sate Registers of Historic Places.
by Valerie Garner