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  • Writer's pictureESSEX FREE PRESS

Amherstburg Freedom Museum extending Black History Month exhibit

Amherstburg Freedom Museum Curator, Mary-Katherine Whelan, stands next to a painting of former Windsor Alderman, Walter Perry, which is on display at the museum. The painting is part of a special Black History Month exhibit, which will extend through March.

by Kyle Reid

While Black History Month officially ended last month, the Amherstburg Freedom Museum will continue to celebrate by extending an exhibit of rarely seen materials from the Museum’s collection through March.

  The exhibit showcases the stories behind rare artifacts and recently acquired items, according to Museum Curator, Mary-Katherine Whelan. Like many museums, she said, the Amherstburg Freedom Museum can display only about 10 percent of its collection. The new exhibit, however, allows for the display of some rarely seen items, which document the lives of Black Canadians in Windsor-Essex and Canada.

  The temporary exhibit, which is located on the upper floor of the main Museum, displays paintings, photographs, scrapbooks, and a variety of other artifacts. The exhibit is designed to evoke conversations about race and politics, by educating patrons about the connection that Windsor-Essex had to the Underground Railroad, but, also, the more shameful connection to the slave trade and policies of segregation following the abolishment of slavery.

  A three-page petition from 1921 to Amherstburg Town Council regarding a Board of Health order, advising a theatre to “exclude all coloured people” is on exhibit, as is an accompanying article from the local newspaper at the time. The racially-motivated order alleged that allowing Black Canadians into the theatre increased the public health risk of smallpox. The order and petition, Whelan said, is particularly surprising for some people who come to the exhibit.

  “A lot of people don’t think of that happening, especially in the 1920s,” Whelan said. “But the laws didn’t really change that quickly…we focus on the Underground Railroad being one part of the journey that people took, [but] the other part was people settling in Canada and building lives here; and it wasn’t easy.”

  Manacles used to restrain slaves, on loan from the Canadian Museum of Human Rights, are also on exhibit, as are signs from the southern United States during the Jim Crowe era, which were used to point African Americans in the direction of black washrooms.

  Also included in the exhibit are photographs of Museum co-founder, Mac Simpson, and members of his family. Simpson’s photos accompany numerous photos of Black-Canadians that Whelan described as symbols of “their independence as free men and woman.”

  Whelan said the exhibit was quite popular through February, with people seeming to connect with the stories from the artifacts. She added the items were chosen for display due to their historical significance to the black community in Windsor-Essex.

  “A lot of this history gets buried,” Whelan said. “I think it’s important for people to seek out this history, not just during Black History Month, but all year round.”

  The exhibit will continue to run through March, but will be briefly shutdown for the first two weeks, due to renovations to the Museum. There is a cost for admission into the Amherstburg Freedom Museum.

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