On Friday evening, the Eastern Shore of Virginia Historical Society presented “Determined: The 400-Year Struggle for Black Equality” to the Eastern Shore unit of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southeast Virginia. The exhibition, on loan from the Virginia Museum of History & Culture in Richmond, traces four centuries of Black history in Virginia through stories of extraordinary individuals who struggled for equality and, in the process, shaped the nature of American society.
The presentation was part of the Black History Month program “Black Excellence,” hosted by the club at Mary Nottingham Smith Cultural Enrichment Center in Accomac. ESVHS will take the exhibit to students at Arcadia and Nandua high schools and to Whitesville’s Davis Center before displaying it at Ker Place in Onancock for the general public to view at the historic landmark’s Spring Open House on Friday, March 11. Hours that day will be 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Admission is free. The exhibit will be on display through April, along with the organization’s recently accessioned copy of the 13th Amendment.
The exhibit includes some historical figures you might know and some you might not. One panel shares information about Peter Jacob Carter, a former enslaved man and veteran of the U.S. Colored Troops who was among the 100 Black men elected to the General Assembly after the Civil War. He represented the Shore’s Northampton County as a delegate from 1871 to 1879.
The story of Richmond native Clem Givings is a particularly compelling one. Givings earned his wings as a Tuskegee Airman and made the ultimate sacrifice in 1944 while stationed in Italy. He and other Black fighter pilots helped win World War II and build the case for desegregating America’s military.
“On the panel about Mr. Givings, you can see the image of a Western Union telegram that notified his family of his death,” said Hilary Hartnett-Wilson, ESVHS executive director. “That telegram and other items about his life were given to the museum by his mother, Ruth. Her generosity and the generosity of others in loaning or giving items to the museum have allowed it to develop this exhibit and many others.
“This is what we do here on the Shore at the Historical Society, too,” Hartnett-Wilson said. “When you share your families’ stories and artifacts – even just copies of a few photographs – you allow us to share it with people who live here, people who visit here, and sometimes even online with the world. If you have documents and artifacts from your family you would like to preserve and/or share, contact Luke Kelly, our collections manager, at [email protected] or 757-787-8012.”