Local museums need your help with a project detailing the history of slavery

LYNCHBURG, Va. – The Legacy Museum of African American History and the Lynchburg Museum System announce a collaborative public history project called Silent Witnesses: The History of Slavery in Lynchburg, Virginia.

The mission of the project is to document the slavery experience of people of African descent and associated sites in Lynchburg and to educate citizens of all ages about this history.

“If we want to honor it, if we want to own it, if we want to live it, we have to start at the bottom,” said Vivian Carr Miller, treasurer of the Legacy Museum of African American History.

The two partner museums will lead the creation of a series of historical markers throughout the city, as well as a digital archive of primary and secondary sources that explores the entire history of slavery in the Hill City.

Silent Witnesses was approved by the Legacy Museum of African American History Board of Trustees and the Lynchburg Museum Advisory Board in Fall 2021.

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“It’s a story that needs to be told, and I’m excited to share our findings with the public,” added Lynchburg Museum Director Ted Delaney. “We explore primary sources that have never been studied before and incorporate the latest scholarship from professional historians.”

One of the main goals of the project is to make the history of slavery visible in the city landscape, connecting the institution to local people, places, events and artifacts.

Organizers plan to install interpretive panels at the significant sites and smaller markers at ground level inspired by the Stolpersteine ​​Art Project in Europe. A public inauguration of these signs and beacons is scheduled for June 16, 2023.

“I was thrilled because it felt like someone was finally figuring out who these people were and how they survived,” said volunteer Ramona Battle. “Can you imagine in 1619 crossing the ocean in these horrible circumstances?”

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Museum partners also hope to incorporate new research and understanding of slavery in Lynchburg into local school curricula.

Other educational initiatives include the creation of resources for students and teachers, guided walking tours, and a new “trails” brochure for residents and tourists.

“There’s a void in local history and what we know about it,” Delaney said. “So much has been discovered and learned over the past five, ten, twenty years that has yet to enter the local history books.”

Silent Witnesses is the first comprehensive study of the history of slavery in Lynchburg. The first documented slaves were brought to central Virginia in the late 1730s.

In 1860, the city of Lynchburg was not only home to one of the largest concentrations of enslaved laborers in Virginia, but it was also a major site for slave trading and auctioning in the state. Between 1800 and 1860, there were almost as many black slave and free residents of Lynchburg as there were whites.

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“They weren’t considered human beings and that’s why it’s so hard to go back and do research to find information,” Battle added.

The Legacy and Lynchburg Museums seek photographs, documents, artifacts, oral histories, and other memorabilia that illustrate the experience of slavery in Lynchburg and the history of slavery in the region.

Individuals and other organizations wishing to contribute information or artifacts, or participate in any aspect of the project, should contact the Legacy Museum or the Lynchburg Museum System for more information.

“There are conversations that need to take place in our community and our nation,” Carr Miller said. “I think now is the time and the period to do it.”

The project boundaries are the current city limits of Lynchburg and adjacent properties in Amherst, Bedford and Campbell counties.

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