Explore the African American Experience at VMHC with Determined: The 400-Year Struggle for Black Equality

On April 3, 1988, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke at the Mason Temple in Memphis Tennessee the day before his assassination. During that speech that is now titled “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”, King said, “We aren’t engaged in any negative protest and in any negative arguments with anybody. We are saying that we are determined to be men. We are determined to be people.”

Those remarkable words inspired the title of the new exhibit at the Virginia Museum of History and Culture, Determined: The 400-Year Struggle for Black Equality. This moving exhibition is a legacy project of the 2019 Commemoration, American Evolution.

VMHC in partnership with American Evolution, opened the exhibit on June 22 to give people the chance to explore the African American experience during the 400 years of America’s history beginning with the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in 1619.

Determined delves into the advances, setbacks, triumphs and trials of African Americans on the long journey towards equality that is continuing today. It focuses on Virginians and Virginia events in the complex history of Virginia’s African American community to provide a balanced, and authentic reality of the 400-year struggle.

Visitors will encounter dozens of stories from people like Missy Elliot, James Lafayette, Mary S. Peake and more. The gallery incorporates artwork, manuscripts, epherma, and other artifacts. It also contains interpretive materials including gallery labels, oral histories, digital content and interactive features. For example, one of the pieces is a stool from a Richmond lunch counter where a sit-in protest against segregation was held by students.

The exhibit also features the Ashe ‘68 Virtual Reality Experience. The 8-minute experience takes viewers on a trip back in time to the moment that Arthur Ashe,the first African American man to win a men’s singles at Wimbledon, the Australian open and the U.S. open, had his historic victory at the 1968 US Open. Ashe was a Richmond native and an activist for African-American rights, and you can learn more about him in the exhibit.

Take the chance to reflect on Virginia’s past through Determined, which will be on display until March 2020.