02/06/07 — Museum's display will reveal local black history

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Museum's display will reveal local black history

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on February 6, 2007 1:47 PM

An exhibit depicting the stories and memories of local black history will open today at the Wayne County Museum.

Wayne County NAACP member Linda Wilkins Daniels has set up the exhibit, which will run through February as part of the county's observance of Black History Month. The museum is open Tuesday through Friday from noon until 4 p.m.

Mrs. Daniels said she was amazed when her research revealed so many intriguing stories.

After finding a picture of a slave house on the Poplar Hill Plantation in the "Wayne County Heritage Book," she kept digging. She learned that slaves were not allowed to fight against the North during the Civil War.

"The owners didn't want their slaves to be a part of an uprising," she said. "If they were freed and in the North, they could join the Army."

Slavery was a part of Wayne County's history, like it or not, she said. The national Black History Month theme this year is "From Slavery to Freedom: Africans in the Americas."

The purpose of the exhibit, she said, is not to point fingers and blame ancestors but to take a look at the county's history and to understand the struggles of the black man.

"The hope is that the person leaving the exhibit will leave enriched, informed, knowledgeable and appreciate the plight of the African from the day he set foot in Wayne County until the present," she said "I want people to come to the exhibit and leave with an appreciation and respect for each other's cultures and understand that this is history."

This is Mrs. Daniels' first time creating a historical museum exhibit.

But she's a history lover, and she said she has caught the history bug. She said she enjoyed doing the research and gathering the artifacts. She even convinced an artist from Greenville, Josh Roche, to loan his paintings portraying famous black people for the exhibit.

She said she's going to keep on digging.

"There's a lot more here than we know," she said.

Mrs. Daniels found many surprises during her research.

She discovered a prep school, the Goldsboro Normal and Classical Institute, which the Quakers started to prepare black students for college between 1886 and 1898.

Then there was Eliza Dyer, a "baby nurse" for many children in Goldsboro. Mrs. Daniels' research revealed baby nurses were like today's midwives.

"She was so well-liked she was buried in Willowdale because of her involvement with all the children. Back then, they didn't allow blacks to be buried with whites."

During the 1940s, the Gordons were the only black family allowed to shop in the Weil's Department Store.

"Dr. Edmund W. Gordon grew up in a family of privilege. His mother was a teacher. His father was a doctor. They weren't considered the average black family," Mrs. Daniels said.

Gordon grew up to become a teacher, too, and was professor emeritus at the Yale and Columbia universities. He wrote more than 175 scholarly articles and a dozen books.

She found some stories of heroism, too.

She learned that, on Sept. 18, 1968, a black teenager altered his birth certificate and enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps at the age of 14 and became PFC. Dan Bullock. He arrived in Vietnam on May 18. 1969 and died a month later at the age of 15. His body was returned and buried in Elmwood Cemetery.

Many black people made history in Wayne County, she found.

In the 1980s, Sam Jones of Mount Olive became an Olympic athlete.

In the 1990s, Warren Greenfield was the first black magistrate in Wayne County.

And when Mrs. Daniels arrived in Wayne County in 2000, she didn't realize she would become a part of history, too, when she campaigned to help Jerry Braswell become the first black judge in the county's history.