Models fashion important figures in black history

July 31, 2010|By HEATHER KEELS
  • Phoebe Harris models as Madam C.J. Walker at Saturday night's History Through Fashion event at the Best Western Grand Venice Hotel ballroom in Hagerstown. The event was a fundraiser for Friends of the Doleman Black Heritage Museum.
By Joe Crocetta, Staff Photographer

HAGERSTOWN -- Clothes took a back seat to character at Saturday night's History Through Fashion benefit as models stepped into not only the costumes, but the personalities of important figures in black history.

Novelist James Baldwin strolled around with a drink and a cigarette, activist Dorothy Height held her head high in a wide-brimmed red hat and jazz artist Miles Davis mimed playing a trumpet as he slunk across the catwalk at the Best Western Grand Venice Hotel ballroom.

The event was a fundraiser for Friends of the Doleman Black Heritage Museum, a group that is working to open a museum to house a collection of black history artifacts assembled by the late Marguerite Doleman of Hagerstown.

About 30 people attended the $20-per-ticket event.

Before the fashion show, guests had a chance to mingle with the models to try to guess their characters. Some, such as abolitionist John Brown, were guessed by many, while only one person figured out that the model in the pink flapper dress was Madam C.J. Walker, a businesswoman who started a line of hair-care products.


Some of the characters inspired members of the audience to tell personal stories about how the figures portrayed influenced their lives.

Martha Cheeves, 84, of Hagerstown, shared her mother attended Walker's beauty school, and Denise Brooks-Cutts of Frederick, Md., spoke of how Height helped bring the Delta Sigma Theta sorority, of which Brooks is a member, to more colleges and universities.

"What we're doing today is celebrating history," said Marlene Cox, the fashion show's announcer and co-owner of Maia Modeling Agency and Sprout Social Prep and Training Center.

"When you know your history, you can walk a little different, you can strut a little better, you can say 'I am somebody,'" Cox said.

The Doleman Heritage Museum is another important part of that effort, she said.

The collection spans a period from pre-Civil War 19th century to the early, mid- and late 20th century and includes thousands of artifacts such as autographs, deeds of slave sales, dolls, furniture, paintings, photographs and books.

Previously, the collection was displayed in the Dolemans' home by appointment, but supporters are working to move it to a permanent museum setting.

The museum is in the process of getting a curator for the collection and has gotten equipment to scan and photograph parts of the collection that cannot be moved, said Alesia Parson-McBean, chairwoman of Friends of the Doleman Black Heritage Museum.

Parson-McBean thanked those who attended the fundraiser and encouraged everyone to write letters to U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md., about the importance of an earmark the museum has requested.

"Without the support of the community, this will not happen," Parson-McBean said.

Learn more about the Doleman Black Heritage Museum collection and view images of the collection at

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