Black History Month salute raises money for Doleman Black Heritage Museum

With the nonprofit museum's grant set to expire July 1, time is running out

February 26, 2011|By ROXANN MILLER |
  • Barbara Ingram School for the Arts student Taia Collins sings a solo a cappella, Saturday during the Black History Month salute and Doleman Black Heritage Museum fundraiser at the Maryland Theatre.
By Colleen McGrath, Staff Photographer

Dressed in blue robes, Morgan State University's choir stepped onto risers on the stage of the Maryland Theatre in Hagerstown as the crowd waited in anticipation.

Under the direction of Eric Conway, students kicked off the two-hour Black History Month salute and Doleman Black Heritage Museum fundraiser with "Lift Every Voice and Sing."

With flawless pitch, 50 of the choir's 120 members combined their voices in a harmonious rendition of the familiar song as the crowd erupted in applause.

In addition to the choir, which entertained the crowd with classical arrangements of gospel and traditional American spirituals, Taia Collins, a student at Barbara Ingram School for the Arts, sang a solo.

Students from South Hagerstown High School's dance class also saluted the Rev. Martin Luther King with a dance selection.

Alesia Parson-McBean, project manager for the museum, said Saturday's fundraiser was the first of three that will be held to benefit the museum.

With the nonprofit museum's grant set to expire July 1, time is running out for the museum board to find funds to purchase a commercial location to house the collection.

Currently, the 4,500-piece collection of Marguerite Doleman, who died in 2000, is housed at the Locust Street home of Doleman and her late husband, Charles A. Doleman.

The Dolemans' son, Charles "Sonny" Doleman, and his family reside on the second floor of the home, while the museum occupies the basement and first floor of the residential property.

The museum board is looking for a permanent home, but Parson-McBean said at the moment the board is trying to raise $50,000 in operational funds for a temporary facility.

Out of the approximately 4,500 pieces, Parson-McBean said 196 pieces have been identified and need immediate care.

Charles "Sonny" Doleman, president of the museum board of directors, said what his mother started in the dining room table took on a life of its own.

"She'd be very happy because in her later years she kept asking what we were going to do. She was concerned with what would happen to it. So, to see people coming on board and taking an interest in preserving it would make her extremely happy," he said.

He said finding a temporary commercial home for the museum would enable better public access to the museum, help the board qualify for more funding and provide better climate control than the current residential property.

One of Doleman's favorite items in his mother's collection is the slave quilts that date back to the 1850s.

"Those pieces have drawn quite a bit of attention. The Smithsonian wanted them when my mother was alive, and she wouldn't let them go," Doleman said. "It's like, 'Wow, we have something that slaves created back before they were even emancipated.'"

Warren Johnson of Hagerstown attended church with the late Charles and Marguerite Doleman.

"She did a wonderful thing, and I'm glad the family is keeping it going," Johnson said.

He wants to see the museum succeed.

"It would be a terrible tragedy (if the museum failed) because that's our history. It's all about how we grew up and the people we all knew," Johnson said. "It's important to preserve our heritage so our young children know our struggle. So, they know what we went through."

Parson-McBean said if enough money isn't raised to move the collection into a temporary home, the late Mrs. Doleman's dream wouldn't die, but many people would lose.

"I just think it would go back to just sitting around there and decaying further. That would be extremely sad. It would not just be sad for the loss of the collection. It would be sad for the loss of opportunities for our kids to know where they came from," Parson-McBean said. "This is not just a museum. It's an economic development opportunity for this community."

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