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Feb 28

Black History Month

Posted on February 28, 2022 at 1:19 PM by Angela O'Brien

Black History Month

All this month we have been featuring and celebrating various aspects of Black history here in Roanoke.  This has included people and places important to not only the history of African-Americans in our community, but indeed to the entire City.  I would like to cap off this month of celebration with announcement of two initiatives that continue to acknowledge this history while also building new paths forward for our community.

Hidden in Plain Sight – Roanoke’s Black History

The city is pledging $25,000 in sponsorship of the Hidden in Plain Sight initiative currently in fundraising.  This initiative is one of two efforts supported by the Harrison Museum of African-American Culture and led by Vice-Mayor White-Boyd (the other being the Henrietta Lacks statue).  Hidden in Plain Sight is envisioned as a Virtual Reality exploration of distinct, but easily overlooked sites around Roanoke, that tells the story of the Black experience throughout Roanoke’s history.  Featuring actual examples from various angles and ages, these sites will be brought to impactful life through current appearance augmented with historical imagery. The goal of the initiative is to inform and educate while changing how residents and visitors see and experience their city.  If successfully funded, the project will be a collaboration with local historians and BrownBaylor, Feedback and Root VR from Richmond.

Urban Renewal and the Berglund Center

Urban Renewal and its impact on the Gainsboro neighborhood remains one of the most traumatic events in our City’s history.  One project that resulted from the demolition and clearing that took place with Urban Renewal was the construction of the Roanoke Civic Center (today the Berglund Center).  The leadership of the Berglund Center has proposed a series of initiatives to honor the history of what preceded, the impact of urban renewal and to begin to forge a new path forward with the Gainsboro neighborhood.  This initiative is a complement to the on-going efforts in the Gainsboro neighborhood involving the elders of the neighborhood.  The initiatives will be developed in collaboration with the residents of Gainsboro and has already included local historian Jordan Bell and Gainsboro elder, Richard Chubb in early conversations. The initiatives may include memorializing (historical markers, plaques, etc.), honoring (murals, naming of spaces within the Berglund Center, etc.), and renewing vibrancy (artist in residence, expanded diversity in entertainment, etc.)  Funding for these initiatives is in part from the Shuttered Venues Grants received from the Small Business Development Center.  

These initiatives are but the latest from our community celebrating the contributions of African-American residents of our City and to collaboratively work toward a future that honors that past while shaping an even more resilient and vibrant future.  I look forward to sharing more about these efforts in the months ahead.

-- Bob Cowell

1970s aerial


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