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African American history exhibit lacking
I read with interest Leslie Kelly’s online article, “Chronicling an uneasy road to equality,” dated Jan. 31, assuming that I would soon come to some reference to the work of the Black Historical Society of Kitsap County, the Bremerton chapter of NAACP, the African American churches in the area, the Sinclair Park Project (and the CD about it), the life of Lillian Walker and the book about her, and, most of all, to Dianne Robinson, former Bremerton City Council District 6 representative — the one person in Kitsap County who could be considered the primary authority on African American history in Kitsap County.
To my amazement, nothing at all was said about any of these wonderful sources of information.
I have now visited the Kitsap Historical Society & Museum three times, and have carefully read each piece of information about local African American history there, assuming that I would find reference to the above groups and, in particular, to Mrs. Robinson’s work, but I did not find anything about them there either.
I would like your readers to know that Mrs. Robinson, who has recently returned to her home state of Florida, arrived in Bremerton in the 1960s and has been working steadily on African American history in the area ever since. She was a founder of the Black Historical Society in the early 1980s, and was active in the local chapter of NAACP throughout her years here.
For all those years, she worked tirelessly, searching local, state and federal records and gathering material from interviews that could never be found in any other way. In addition, she has done countless special research projects — such as “The Sinclair Park Project” (2002-04). The CD lists all those who contributed to this work. It is quite an amazing list, and it includes Dianne Robinson and the residents of that former segregated community.
In addition, when Lillian Walker was honored with a reception at the Washington Secretary of State’s office, and when a book was published by the Secretary of State for her brave life here, Mrs. Robinson was regularly consulted by that department and was praised for her careful and thorough research. (The Kitsap Museum has at least one copy of the Lillian Walker book, but no mention is made of it in the current exhibit.)
Local African American history has been Mrs. Robinson’s passion and it has been one of mine as well, ever since I met her in 1998. She has focused on Kitsap County. I, having lived mostly in Mason County since my retirement from college teaching in 1996, have concentrated my research here, tracing the footsteps of homesteaders and miners in the Hood Canal area. Mrs. Robinson and I have spent many hours discussing the subjects of our research, exploring our two counties, and writing and editing portions of this massive undertaking.
It is great to see information about the Garrison family, about Jane and Paul Ruley, about Nathaniel Sargent, and Charles Austin, but much, much more in-depth work has been done locally that would fill many rooms of the Kitsap Museum. The entire living African American community has been left out of the Black History Month commemoration in this instance. That is a shame. And it’s just plain wrong.
I would suggest that, next year, the Kitsap Museum celebrate Black History Month by inviting the Black Historical Society (contact Pat Thomas), the Bremerton chapter of NAACP (contact President Joan Ferebee and Past President Gwen Shepherd), and Dianne Robinson to serve as guest curators and to organize a Black History Month exhibit at the museum. The African American community has much to celebrate, and much to teach, and the rest of us have much to learn.
Nancy E. Gill, Ph.D.