Pilot: Virginia Beach's future African American Cultural Center seeks stories about black residents

 

 

The group behind the city’s future African American Cultural Center is looking for stories about black people who lived, worked and led in Virginia Beach and Princess Anne County.

 

Board members who are planning the center, which will be next to Lake Edward Park at the corner of Newtown and Diamond Springs roads, want to collect artifacts and document people’s stories on video and in writing.

 

“We have several communities and neighborhoods we want to know a little more about,” said Amelia Ross-Hammond, a member of the center’s board and a former City Council member. “We want to hear the good, the bad and the ugly.”

 

The board has come up with its own list of people to track down, but wants to make sure not to miss anyone. It’s especially important to get the oldest residents, Ross-Hammond said. Since planning for the center started in 2014, several black residents have died without any formal record of historical stories.

 

Ross-Hammond expects to hear stories from people who were students at Union Kempsville High School when it was heated by a single stove.

 

And she knows there are still former members of the city’s first volunteer fire department in Seatack, and black residents who lived in small communities like Newlight and Gracetown.

 

There’s no deadline for sharing stories and items. A feasibility study for the center is expected to be presented early next month to the City Council, and a formal fundraising campaign will start next spring, Ross-Hammond said.

 

The $10 million center is planned for an area surrounded by several historically black neighborhoods. Early plans called for a 30,000-square-foot building with at least a dozen galleries, an indoor theater and community rooms.

 

The center’s budget would also pay for some improvements and connections to Lake Edward Park nearby.

 

Most of the center will detail the history of black residents in Princess Anne County and Virginia Beach, Ross-Hammond said, but there will also be regional information.

And the board wants to make it interactive.

 

In addition to videos of people telling their stories, Ross-Hammond envisions using some of the space to host live exhibitions of cultural dances and rituals.

 

“Our whole vision is to be a real leader in generating historical and cultural content,” she said.

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