Our Civil Rights Museum Is Gaining 'Motonmentum'

Published 3:57 pm Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Moton Museum is making great strides toward fulfilling its stated commitment “to the preservation and positive interpretation of the history of civil rights in education, specifically as it relates to Prince Edward County and the role its citizens played in America's struggle to move from a segregated to an integrated society.”

Day after day the museum validates the vision and tenacity of the Martha E. Forrester Council of Women-along with the many people who made donations-to purchase the building from Prince Edward County for $300,000 in 1996 to preserve it and turn the National Historic Landmark into a museum.

Winning grant funds to construct a tourist center at the museum for the Civil Rights In Education Heritage Trail would be another important leap forward.

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The museum is the anchor site for the 13-county, 41-site heritage trail and the museum meets every rational criteria VDOT could apply when judging applicants for its Transportation Enhancement grant funds, of which the museum is seeking $302,662. The Town of Farmville is acting as the project's sponsor, with the Commonwealth Regional Council filling the role of project manager, adding to the strength of the museum's application.

The tourist center would provide orientation to visitors on the heritage trail. Given the museum's central hub location geographically and the overriding historical significance of the history made at the museum's site, VDOT is faced with the ultimate no-brainer when it comes to awarding grant funds. Prince Edward County also has more of the heritage trail's sites than any other county.

The facility, to be constructed as a replica of one of the tarpaper shacks built by the County to accommodate student over-flow from R. R. Moton High School and which helped trigger the historic action by African-American students against separate and unequal facilities, would serve several functions. In addition to providing trail-wide orientation, the building would also house restrooms, multi-modal access to the trail-to accommodate bicycles, motorcycles, cars and buses, for example-and safety improvements on site.

All of those are right down VDOT's alley, and highways and byways.

The most important outcome of winning the grant would be the enhancement of the museum site to tell the story upon which it was founded and has based its mission, bringing more visitors to the Moton Museum in Farmville and Prince Edward County as it then sends them forth across the trail with a greater breadth of understanding and appreciation for the civil rights history they find here and elsewhere.

There are, of course, economic benefits to the construction of the heritage trail's tourist center at the museum. Moton Museum director Lacy Ward told Town Council that, “We think this can produce about a million dollars in economic activity in the trail communities on an annual basis. That's coming from about 35,000 visitors on an annual basis.”

Thirty-five thousand people who will have a much deeper appreciation of how we have grown closer to each other as human beings through the years, overcoming the obstacles we ourselves have created, first in our own minds and then, secondly, in the world that we share.

Thirty-five thousand people, many of them, most of them, perhaps, children, who will gain a much deeper appreciation for the ways in which we can widen the bridge between peoples until it becomes the world itself.