Museum exhibit spotlights black pioneers

By Jaymie Baxley

March 8, 2014

LUMBERTON — A local organization is throwing a spotlight on black pioneers from across the area with a photography exhibit currently running at the Robeson County History Museum in downtown Lumberton.

The exhibit, titled “Celebrating the Golden Years of Jubilee,” was assembled by members of the Lumberton branch of the National Association of University Women — a nonprofit that distributes scholarships to high school students and promotes educational advancement.

Together, the women collected more than 70 portraits and candid photographs of black politicians, entrepreneurs, educators and other individuals. The photographs are displayed along two sides of a protracted board near the museum’s entrance, and each image is accompanied by a short biography detailing the accomplishments of its subject.

“We asked people in the community to contribute pictures and they gladly shared them with us,” said Lucille Watson, the association’s president. “The people featured in this exhibit are each the first to do whatever they did.”

Among those people are current elected officials like Fairmont Mayor Bobby Townsend and state Rep. Garland Pierce, who also serves as chairman of the North Carolina Legislative Black Caucus.

Spanning almost 200 years of history, many of the photographs draw attention to ground-breaking civil rights activists such as Lawrence Stephens, who established the Lumberton branch of the NAACP.

Notable landmarks such as the First Baptist Church in Fairmont, which was founded in 1869 by a group of 62 former slaves, are also included in the exhibit.

“Golden Years” opened to the public in February and was scheduled to coincide with Black History Month. Response to the project was so positive that the museum decided to extend its stay through March.

“The Lumberton branch of the National Association of University Women has worked hard to gather photos and biographies of a large group of leading citizens of our community and the black citizens of Robeson County are proud of their contributions,” said Colleen Brown, the museum’s corresponding secretary and president of Historic Robeson Inc. “This exhibit affords everyone the opportunity to recognize and extend appreciation to those many who have joined the effort to make Robeson County a better place to live.”

According to Watson, the exhibit has attracted several visitors to the museum for the first time.

“We’ve had quite a few schoolchildren and teachers stop by who didn’t even know the museum existed until we put up this display,” Watson said.

She added that many guests have described the exhibit as “enlightening,” while others have simply taken delight in spotting familiar faces on the board.

“Even our members were surprised by some of the history we found,” Watson said. “Our organization is always trying to do something for the community.”

The Robeson County History Museum is open from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and from 2 until 4 p.m. on Sundays.