Revisit concept of African-American museum

Published: Wednesday, February 5, 2014 at 2:02 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 5, 2014 at 2:02 p.m.

Recently, my wife, Cottie, and I attended a fundraiser at the Matheson Museum for Pastor Kevin Thorpe, an Alachua County Commission candidate. While there, I toured the facility and took note of all the historical artifacts and also perused the well-stocked library.

It has been years since I have been in the Matheson Museum. I was captivated by the warm ambience and attractive interior decor, sort of a mixture of old American colonialism and modern American.

The Matheson Museum has made an imprint on this community for many years in a very positive way. It has highlighted the history of events and people who have played a major part in the development of Alachua County and greater Gainesville. It also encompasses reading materials from periods of yesteryear and current events. It is a wonderful setting to meet socially as well as host small groups for meetings and special gatherings.

I'm sure the idea of having such a museum like the Matheson here in our city has been an ongoing and evolving conceptualization for many years. I am really proud of what the Matheson Museum has to offer and what it has done for our community.

I was so intrigued by what I saw at the museum that I began to share my enthusiasm with Cynthia Chestnut, a former county commissioner who also attended the fundraiser. She felt/shared the same worth of the Matheson and what it offers the community. In our conversation, we talked about the possibility of having such a museum somewhere in the African-American community. We brainstormed the various locations and even thought about how such an idea could be possible.

As we delved into the subject more, Cynthia offered an idea that this could be a worthwhile project of the Pan-Hellenic Council of greek-lettered sororities and fraternities. In collaboration with the Pan-Hellenic group and the community, this is not a far-fetched reality.

As I look at all of the historic and vacant homes and properties in our area, there could be the perfect site to display the contributions of African Americans in this community. I recall having this discussion with my dad, the Rev. Thomas A. Wright Sr., many years ago. I'm sure he planted the seed in my mind, and now it has resurfaced.

One must keep in mind that the Matheson did not birth itself overnight. It was an ever-developing concept that was nurtured along through many years. I'm sure there were sacrifices in the form of donations, grants and other gifts to make the Matheson what it is today.

To have such a building in our own neighborhood would mean so much for the children in this community, showcasing early families who had an impact in this city, state and throughout America. What better way to teach our youth black history. We often talk about what the schools are not teaching as it pertains to black history, but what are we doing for ourselves to teach our children what we want them to know?

February is designated as a time to observe our history and celebrate some of our accomplishments. Personally, I think this has ramifications of stagnation and lacks progressive thinking. One month to capture generations of the achievements of a race of people is incredulous to me. I believe more should be done to perpetuate our history. Having a place like the Matheson would be a step in the right direction for our children to hang out and learn more about their history.

Several years ago, I wrote an article about the possibility of this becoming a reality, but I guess we were all too busy to follow up. I hope this time this article will generate some interest from the Pan-Hellenic Council and the community to come together to at least discuss the concept. As I retire in March from my duties as assistant to the superintendent, I would like to be part of what I see as a great need in our community, and that is to have a museum featuring some lost history.

We must build upon our roots and establish genuine connections for our rising generations to learn about events and people of the past. It is our responsibility to share our story and history with our children. Let this be the beginning. I see a bright future ahead.

Philoron A. Wright Sr. is assistant to the superintendent of community and schools for Alachua County Public Schools.

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