A large crowd gathered in the Modlin Center for the Arts for the opening reception of a new exhibit, "Growing Up in Civil Rights Richmond," on Wednesday night.
The exhibition consists of portraits of Richmond city natives who grew up as young people during the civil rights era. The photographs were taken by Richmond-based photographer Brian Palmer and are accompanied by excerpts from interviews done by Laura Browder, professor of American studies.
Browder initially wanted to write a book based on children involved with the civil rights movement. But after she mentioned the idea to exhibition curator Ashley Kistler, Kistler suggested that Browder put together an exhibition instead.
“I had been thinking about writing a young adult book based on the recollections of kids who were active during the civil rights movement because I have been inviting some of those people to the classes I teach," Browder said. "Their stories were amazing and I didn't feel like most people knew those stories."
Browder hoped that people would take away a deeper understanding of Richmond’s contested history and also inspiration from those who struggled throughout their lives and accomplished their dreams.
Both Browder and Richard Waller, executive director of University Museums, noted the significance of the exhibit's opening having come after the “Unite the Right Rally” that took place in August 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia.
“The exhibit gives an incredible glimpse into a different time,” Waller said. “I think this is an opportunity for people in Richmond to tell their story.”
Waller said he would like visitors to get a better sense of the past in order to improve on what's to come.
“It is a time right now to look back to that period and talk about civil rights and how far it needs to go," he said. "I think it’s a very important right now in 2019 to look to the past and the future."
For those photographed and featured, the exhibit holds significant meaning in their lives.
“I’m very excited about the exhibit," Daisy Weaver, exhibit participant and Richmond native, said. "It means a lot to be joined by other great people. I hope people get a sense of the history and community within Richmond.”
Fellow participant and Richmond native Mary White Thompson echoed this sentiment.
“This is a very happy time in my life for me to share my thoughts with others,” Thompson said.
Thompson, whose portrait is displayed at the forefront of the exhibit, added that it was important for people to share more with one another. She hoped that young people would learn from the stories of those featured and grow to never give up on their dreams, she said.
Initial reactions from exhibit visitors were of high praise.
“It was eye-opening to see the deep history of normal people and their common history,” visitor and Virginia native Jasmine Leeward said.
The exhibit will run from Jan. 18 to May 10 at the Joel and Lila Harnett Museum of Art.
Contact news writer Ben Wasserstein at firstname.lastname@example.org.