The Woodson Museum has access to a huge collection of Black History artifacts

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A benefactor with a huge collection of black history artifacts has promised to make more than 8,000 pieces available for viewing over the next few years at the Woodson African American Museum of Florida in St. Petersburg.

Clinton Byrd, a financial investor who lives in Tallahassee, started a side hustle as a historian in 2012 after securing a collection amassed by Nathaniel “The Magnificent” Montague, a black radio pioneer. Montague, now 94, dreamed of opening his own museum of African American history in Los Angeles. He has spent nearly 50 years collecting artifacts such as letters from Booker T. Washington and Frederick Douglass, recordings from opera singer Marian Anderson, and books from the museum’s namesake, Dr. Carter G. Woodson, considered the father of black history.

Byrd said he has the collection in climate-controlled storage and has already begun working with the Woodson on what he hopes will be many special exhibitions that can be curated from the large collection.

Carter G. Woodson is one of the founders of the Association for the Study of African American History and first came up with the idea for the celebration that became Black History Month. Woodson, the son of freed slaves from Virginia who later earned a doctorate in history from Harvard, originally came up with the idea for Negro History Week to encourage black Americans to take a greater interest in their own history. [ AP ]

In February, during Black History Month, he worked with the museum on an exhibit called “Unforgettable” about Woodson’s works. He celebrated the process by which Woodson integrated past achievements and history into mainstream thought, publishing more than 30 books and contributing to dozens more.

Byrd said he initially focused on collaborating with a college that would use the collection for research purposes. When that didn’t work out, he looked for a museum space. He said the surprises found in the collection “are things I want my kids to see.”

Byrd said that when they met, Montague liked to surprise him by pulling out random treasures.

“He loved how many unique items he had, like a Tuskegee Airman darling pillow. When they went to war, they gave their lovers something. It was a way to give their loved ones something they would remember. I had never heard of that.

And then she was shown a book of poems by Phyllis Wheatley, which was published in 1773. It was the first book by a slave to be published in the colonies and only the third book by an American to be published. Montague had a signed copy.

The works of American folk artist and evangelist Gertrude Morgan (1900-1980) are among the Black History artifacts that will be shared with the Woodson African American Museum of Florida in St. Petersburg in an upcoming exhibit.
The works of American folk artist and evangelist Gertrude Morgan (1900-1980) are among the Black History artifacts that will be shared with the Woodson African American Museum of Florida in St. Petersburg in an upcoming exhibit. [ Montague Collection ]

Terri Lipsey Scott, executive director of the Woodson Museum since 2014, is now working with Byrd on their upcoming collaborations. The first will be an exhibit on folk artist and evangelist Gertrude Morgan (1900-1980), who won acclaim for both her folk art and her album “Let’s Make a Record”, recorded at New York’s revered Preservation Hall. Orleans. Andy Warhol was fascinated by her work and she has been featured in many prominent folk art collections in museums.

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After that, an exhibit will detail the history of the Lincoln Motion Picture Company, America’s first black film production company. Founded by black filmmakers in 1916, it produced five films that sought to eliminate the stereotypical slapstick comedy roles Hollywood had reserved for black actors at the time.

The dates of the next exhibitions have not yet been decided.

“He’s been a wonderful partner and collaborator,” Scott said of Byrd. “We are helping his desire to make sure this stays in the state where his family lives.”

The life and works of popular artist Gertrude Morgan, featured here in a recent exhibition in Tallahassee, will be shared with the Woodson Museum in St. Petersburg.
The life and works of popular artist Gertrude Morgan, featured here in a recent exhibition in Tallahassee, will be shared with the Woodson Museum in St. Petersburg. [ Montague Collection ]

Scott said she also hopes such a high-profile partnership will boost her campaign to raise $30 million for a new state-of-the-art facility. Its current location, which opened in 2006, is a fairly small 4,000 square foot building at 2240 Ninth Ave. S. Scott is aiming for a 30,000 square foot museum and has so far raised $5 million in a fundraising campaign to the state. first museum dedicated to African-American history.

Byrd sees a rich future with the Woodson Museum.

“Our mission is the same,” Byrd said. “We seek to preserve and present the untold story of this rich American history of African American contributions to America and the world. They need content and we need a place to create our exhibits.

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