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AHE first-graders tour museum, learn Fayette Street area history
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FAHI’s Gerald Holman shows first-graders from Albert Harris Elementary School pictures of the school from the 1960s, when it was a segregated high school. The Albert Harris exhibit at the FAHI museum includes photos of the building over the years, copies of the school newspaper, photos of Miss Albert Harris and more. (Photo by Kim Buck)

Friday, September 20, 2013


First-graders from Albert Harris Elementary learned about the history of their school and the community recently during a field trip to the Fayette Area Historical Initiative museum.

During the tours, led by FAHI’s Gerald Holman, many students were excited to recognize their school in old pictures from Albert Harris’s days as a segregated high school. The exhibit included photos of the building being constructed, copies of the school newspaper, photos of Miss Albert Harris and more.

“They got really excited about seeing old pictures of Albert Harris School. We even saw about where our classroom is today” in one of the photos, said first-grade teacher Elizabeth Jent. “The students were very interested in all the old photos and stories Mr. Holman told.”

“I’m hoping as they leave here, they will know more about the history of Fayette Street and show an interest in the history of this area,” Holman said.

Students heard about the June German Ball, an “all-night party” that in its heyday attracted big-name acts such as James Brown, and they saw a saxophone played at one of the balls. They saw photos and heard about area landmarks such as the now-closed Paradise Inn, and they learned the history of the former Imperial Savings & Loan building where the museum is housed. The children noted unfamiliar objects such as a typewriter and a record player.

Holman also told them stories about notable African-Americans from Martinsville and Henry County, including Dr. Dana O. Baldwin; Tuskegee Airman Lt. Col. Armour McDaniel; and Marie Millner, the area’s first African-American woman to go into the armed forces. A family tree showed first lady Michelle Obama’s family connections to the area.

When Holman showed the students a picture of Nancy Redd, a Martinsville-area native who was the first African-American Miss Virginia in 2003, students exclaimed, “Ooo, she’s pretty!” and “Is she a princess?”

During the tour, Holman showed the students a number of artifacts from daily life over the past century and asked them to guess what they were for, including beauty products, an adding machine, a washboard for scrubbing clothes and an 8-track tape.

“They had fun guessing what some of the old objects were,” Jent said.

Students giggled when Holman showed them a washtub and explained how people used it for bathing.

“My grandma would say, ‘Bath time!’ She would heat the water over the stove, hang up a sheet in the kitchen, and you would take a bath,” Holman said.

He also showed them some old irons that had to be heated up on the woodstove, as well as some hairstyling tools.

“I liked seeing the curling combs,” said first-grader Vontae Gravely.

“I liked the calculator,” said first-grader Caleb Burgess, whose grandfather was pictured in one of the photos in the Albert Harris School exhibit.

Holman showed students the reading room, which is full of books and resources for studying African-American history, including a children’s book about the June German Ball. He encouraged them to come back to the museum with their families. Admission is free, although donations are accepted.

All six first-grade classes participated in the field trip as part of their studies about community.

“In learning about the community, you need to start close to home. That was the idea behind the trip to FAHI — to learn about the immediate community where we live and go to school,” Jent said. “I think the students will have more appreciation about the community we live in and the people in it.”

(Editor’s note: Kim Buck is community outreach and grants coordinator for the Martinsville schools.)


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