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Historic exhibit on blacks in the Panhandle being resurrected

January 17, 2011|By RICHARD F. BELISLE | richardb@herald-mail.com
  • Jimica Kenyatta, 82, of Charles Town, W.Va., shows two of the 18 photos in an upcoming historic exhibit on blacks in the Eastern Panhandle.
By Richard F. Belisle/Staff Writer

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. — Excerpts from an interview under Anna Robert Roberson’s photo, one of 18 in an upcoming historic exhibit on blacks in the Eastern Panhandle, tell of her aunt who was a house slave in Shepherdstown, W.Va.

Roberson’s story is part of a Panhandle-wide historic interview and photographic research project on the black community completed in 1993 by Jimica Kenyatta, 82, of Charles Town, and photographer Anna Zelle of American University.

Most of the 18 subjects interviewed were between 60 and 90 years old. They were asked about childhood experiences, where they were born and grew up, their families, jobs and education, and their lives in the community.

Roberson told Kenyatta in her interview that her aunt, Emma Bell, used to talk to her about the times when she was a house slave in Shepherdstown. She told her niece that “she had a good master, but that he fell ill and on bad times, so he had to hire Emma out to other households. He told her not to accept any Confederate money.”

The exhibit was first shown in February 1994 in Martinsburg, W.Va., under the title “The Life and Times of the Tri-County African-American Community.”

It’s being reprised for a monthlong showing beginning Feb. 5 at the Fire Hall Gallery and Charles Town Visitors Center at 108 N. George St. Newly titled “Give Praise,” it kicks off with a reception from 2 to 4 p.m.

Kenyatta and Zelle will be there to talk about the exhibit and the work that went into it 18 years ago.

It includes a half-dozen color photos taken by Zelle.

“The exhibit is a way to honor individuals who have been important figures in the black community,” said Kenyatta, who is the exhibit’s curator.

Included are photos and interviews featuring Charles Branson of Shepherdstown, Oscar Jones of Martinsburg and John Dick Powell of Paw Paw, W.Va.

The project is sponsored by the Jefferson County Black History Preservation Society in cooperation with the Arts and Humanities Alliance of Jefferson County.

Zelle and Kenyatta worked with the Carter G. Woodson Historical Association in 1993. They spent more than a year, off and on, including most of that summer, meeting, getting to know, interviewing and photographing the 18 subjects.

Kenyatta retired as a quality-control manager at the former Badger-Powhatan plant in Charles Town in 1991. Zelle, at the time the project was under way, was head of the photography school and an associate professor of visual media at American University in Washington, D.C. She is retired and lives in Brevard, N.C.

She had friends in Kearneysville, W.Va., and met Kenyatta through Pam Parziale, a local potter who knew Zelle’s friends. Parziale wrote the grant that funded the project.

Zelle said in a telephone interview Monday that she hopes all the work that went into the project — the interviews and photographs — will encourage someone to publish them in a book someday.

If you go


What: “Give Praise,” a historic interview and photographic research project on the black community in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia

Where:
Fire Hall Gallery and Charles Town Visitors Center at 108 N. George St.

When: Begins Feb. 5 with a reception from 2 to 4 p.m. The exhibit runs for a month.

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