Moton Museum: Barbara Johns had something to say…and so do we

Published 7:01 pm Sunday, February 11, 2024

Happy Black History Month from the Moton Museum. We anticipate a very busy month here at Moton. Make sure you schedule your visit soon!

On Feb. 12, join our executive director, Cainan Townsend, as he speaks at the Farmville Area Chamber of Commerce noon luncheon at The Woodland. He will offer some updates on the museum and give some great previews of things to come in 2024. The event is $10 for visitors. 

On Feb. 24 at 1 p.m., join us for a Black History Program featuring We Understand Youth Outreach. The program is entitled “Barbara Johns Had Something to Say… and So Do We”.

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We are thrilled to have the Virginia Council for Social Studies (VCSS) Conference here in Farmville at Longwood University on March 1 through March 3. There will be great sessions and phenomenal keynote presentations throughout the weekend, all involving Moton. Anyone interested in the conference must register via the VCSS website. 

Also in March, one of our longest standing programs returns. Our Moton Community Prayer Breakfast! Join us on March 5 at 7:30 a.m. in the Moton Auditorium. This is free and open to the public. 

Spring is our busy season for K-12 school groups. We are continuing work to expand our reach to all parts of the commonwealth. If you are, or know someone who might be, interested in our school programs please email info@motonmuseum.org for more information. Most importantly all programming for school groups are free!

Focusing on Martha Forrester

But now, in honor of Black History Month, we’d like to share some information about a very important historical figure to the Moton story. That individual is Martha E. Forrester.

Martha Ellen (Sampson) Forrester was born in Richmond, Va., in 1863. She graduated from the Colored High and Normal School, then worked as a teacher in the Richmond Public School system until her marriage to Robert Forrester, son of Richard and Narcissa Forrester. She was instrumental in establishing the Farmville Council of Colored Women, a service organization dedicated to advocating for better educational opportunities for Black students in Prince Edward County among other outreach efforts. That organization was later renamed the Martha E. Forrester Council of Women in her honor.

The Council of Colored Women used their platform to advocate for the building of Farmville Elementary School in the late 1920s, which later changed its name to Robert Russa Moton High School after adding grades 8-11. In addition to tax dollars, the Council later raised $1,000 to pay for the auditorium of a newly built Moton High School. Vera Allen described the Council’s work as “persistent crusading and financial support.” The Council of Colored Women fundraised to help support the schools along with advocating for additional resources at local school board meetings and using their vote to further educational support.

Forrester served as president of the Council of Colored Women until her death on November 12, 1951. The Council continued its local advocacy under its new name — the Martha E. Forrester Council of Women — and was vital to the preservation of what is now the Moton Museum. The Council purchased the building from Prince Edward County in the 1990s, saving the structure for an astronomical price of $300,000, which community members fundraised. It then applied for and gained National Historic Status for the museum in 1998 and was instrumental in the opening of Moton Museum on April 23, 2001.

You can read her full biography on the Moton Museum website motonmuseum.org. We have other great biographies to view as well for people like Barbara Johns, Rev. L. Francis Griffin, and Dr. Robert Russa Moton.

Black history is crucial to learn all year round, not just in February. Remember as Black History Month eventually comes to a close the words of the first Black US Attorney General Eric Holder “Black history is extremely important because it is American history.” 

Cainan Townsend is the executive director of the Moton Museum. He can be reached at c.townsend@motonmuseum.org.