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Chocolate Garden Tea attendees share goal, resolve

Permanent home sought for Doleman Black Heritage Museum, or at least a more appropriate temporary space

July 13, 2013|By ALICIA NOTARIANNI | alnotarianni@aol.com
  • Irma Branch of Hagerstown claps and sings along to the musical selections Saturday during the Chocolate Garden Tea benefit for the Doleman Black Heritage Museum at Applause Catering in downtown Hagerstown.
By Joe Crocetta, Staff Photographer

High tea hats served as elegant hedges for polite conversation Saturday at Applause Catering.

But amid the genteel exchanges ran a common goal and a resolve to achieve it.

Attendees of the Friends of the Doleman Black Heritage Museum’s Chocolate Garden Tea expressed an interest in preserving and honoring the history of blacks in Washington County, and in acquiring a proper place to do so.

“This kind of event gives some historical perspective and creates some fun, too,” museum curator Wendi Perry said. “Tea was something that African-Americans would do as a social event.”

The 4,500 artifacts of the Doleman collection are contained in the Doleman family’s North Locust Street home, and the museum is open by appointment only. Mobile exhibits are presented by appointment to clubs and schools.

Perry, who worked as director of the Banneker-Douglass Museum in Annapolis, told the crowd she has been sorting through the artifacts in hopes of an imminent move to a more appropriate temporary space.

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“I’ve been packing up the house, putting things in acid-free boxes, slowly but surely looking for another space,” she said.

Perry’s work is being paid for by a grant from the Institute of Museums and Library Services, sponsored by U.S. Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Benjamin Cardin, and former U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, and administered by the city of Hagerstown. She hopes to open a temporary gallery on Washington Street through a funding partnership by the end of the year, she said, but acknowledged that the goal to do so is “ambitious.”

“We are wetting people’s whistle with our mobile exhibit,” she said. “We are caught between being too popular and not having our name out there enough.”

The museum’s long-term goal is to have a permanent facility on Jonathan Street in the heart of Hagerstown’s historically black neighborhood.

Museum Administrator Alesia Parson-McBean encouraged guests to share their own family stories to be displayed in future exhibits.

“The current collection is limited mostly to the family of the collectors,” she said. “While we honor that, you don’t have to be related to this family to flesh out a story. We want to broaden the scope to include other families with rich histories, who have done interesting things.”

Parson-McBean added that stories pertinent to the museum do not need to be strictly those of African-Americans.

“They just need to be the stories of people who are broad-minded enough to have relationships in the African-American community, to be supporting and preserving the accomplishments of the African-American community,” she said.

The tea included a luncheon, raffles and musical entertainment. Washington County Historical Society Executive Director Linda Irvin-Craig addressed the crowd.

The event, which is in its second year, is not one of the museum’s top fundraisers, Parson-McBean said. It raised less than $1,000 last year and was expected to bring in about the same this year. But it also serves to share ideas and build relationships.

Parson-McBean noted the number of tea attendees who are not African-American increased since last year.

“I think it’s a beautiful thing. African-American history is a part of American history,” she said. “We fought in the Civil War. We did have a part in life in Hagerstown. It stands to reason that more white people would start to see that we are all in this together.”

Linda Smith is a member of Friends of the Doleman Black Heritage Museum. She said the conversation at her table was stimulating and sparked new ideas for the museum, including the prospect of recording oral histories.

Lori Gaither, 51, of Hagerstown said a friend invited her to the event. She had never been to a tea, nor did she have any prior involvement with the museum.

“I like the idea of having tea, and how it’s caused me to look into my heritage,” Gaither said.

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