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Exhibit connects EC to Harlem Renaissance

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Julian Allagan (left) and his daughter, Sophie, 9, look at a display of clothing items originally worn by Elizabeth City native Thelma Spellman Morris, at the opening of Museum of the Albemarle's "Harlem Renaissance, A Forward Movement" exhibit, Saturday morning.

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By Chris Day
Multimedia Editor

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Visitors attending the opening of Museum of the Albemarle’s newest exhibit said that prior to Saturday they knew little about the Harlem Renaissance. 

The museum celebrated its latest exhibit, “Harlem Renaissance, A Forward Movement,” with an official opening at 9 a.m., followed by a ceremonial ribbon cutting at 11:30 a.m., Saturday. The exhibit highlights the Harlem Renaissance, a cultural movement and outburst of artistic expression among African-Americans that occurred primarily during the 1920s in Harlem, a neighborhood located just north of Central Park in New York City.

The Harlem Renaissance became widely known after publication of the 1925 anthology “The New Negro,” which was edited by writer Alain Locke. In addition to Locke, other key figures of the Harlem Renaissance included artist and illustrator Aaron Douglas, jazz musicians Duke Ellington and Fats Waller and writers Langston Hughes, Claude McKay and Zora Neale Hurston.   

Julian Allagan, of Elizabeth City, was browsing the displays and reading the information panels following the ribbon cutting. Until Saturday, he did not know much about the Harlem Renaissance, he said. 

“I had no prior knowledge,” he said, adding he came to the museum to learn more about the significant movement. “That’s what brought me here.”

He was visiting the museum with his two daughters, Sophie, 9, and Thesilea, 3. 

Nancy Fisher, of Hertford, said that prior to visiting the exhibit she had not known about the Great Migration. That social and cultural migration began in the opening decades of the 20th Century when millions of African-Americans living in the rural southeastern United States moved northward and out west mainly to escape the institutionalized racism of the South. They were seeking better opportunities and lives for themselves and their families.   

“Obviously, it inspired them to move forward with their lives,” Fisher said. 

Among the many African-Americans who migrated north and settled in Harlem was Elizabeth City native Thelma Spellman Morris. 

Morris was born May 26, 1909, and later moved to Harlem, where she became active in helping raise awareness of the harmful side effects of cigarette smoking. 

“She spearheaded education programs on the dangers of smoking for the American Lung Association in New York City,” states a display panel. 

Included in the display is a mannequin donned in many of the original clothing items that Morris wore while living in Harlem. The items were loaned to the museum by relatives of Morris and include a long black jacket, a hat, shoes, a monogrammed purse and a travel trunk. 

Participating in the ribbon cutting were Trisha Walton and Jeanette Brothers, both local alumni members of the national sorority Delta Sigma Theta and, who along with fellow alumni, support museum programs.  

“I feel like it’s a good opportunity for our youth to learn about their past and the arts,” Walton said, of the exhibit. 

Brothers, who used large gold scissors to cut the ribbon, said Saturday was the first time she’d visited the museum and enjoyed all the exhibits. She is looking forward to returning when her family is visiting from out of town.

“I intend to bring my grand-kids here when they come back to visit,” she said.   

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