“Education and Empowerment: African-American Schools in Rutherford County,” an interactive exhibit installed at Bradley Academy Museum and Cultural Center in spring 2017, won top honors for “Student Work in Museums” at the Southeastern Museums Conference in New Orleans.
Second-year master’s candidate Typhanie Schafer of Audubon, Minnesota, and second-year doctoral student Lindsey Fisher of Newcastle, Pennsylvania, accepted the award for MTSU.
The students revamped the gallery of the Bradley/Holloway room at Bradley Academy, located at 415 S. Academy St. in Murfreesboro, to feature a more comprehensive exhibit that included Holloway High School. That facility was built to educate African-Americans before school integration and now serves as a nonzoned choice school for Rutherford County students that also provides the county’s Night School Program.
“We interpreted the history of African-American education going back into the early 1800s, really, through the 1960s,” said Dr. Brenden Martin, director of MTSU’s Public History Program.
“But then we continued the story into the creation of the Bradley Academy Historical Society, the preservation of the building and its conversion into a museum in 2000.”
Jordan Alexander, a second-year doctoral student from Atlanta, Georgia, helped craft the project’s mission statement and interviewed Paul Marks Banks Jr., one of the first African-Americans to attend a previously all-white high school in Murfreesboro.
“It was a very eye-opening and empowering experience to see how my people actually took their own history and made something out of it in spite of the oppressive circumstances that they were living in,” Alexander said.
Schafer emphasized the importance of working with the historical society in telling the story and letting the African-American community guide the students instead of having students reinterpreting the narrative through their own eyes.
“We come in and we try to present it in a way that uses … our professional knowledge, but also the interpretation and the feelings and the ideas of the communities,” Schafer said.
Project manager Fisher poured her research efforts into the exhibit, then said she came to realize that turning all that information into something tangible appealed to her.
“I love building exhibits,” Fisher said. “That’s something I didn’t know about myself, but I really like putting together exhibits and seeing how things fit together in a room.”
With the assistance of Alecia Heidt from MTSU’s Information Technology Division, the display includes two interactive elements. One is an interactive story map; the other shows historical footage of Holloway High School with an audio track of oral history interviews.
“This is pretty much becoming a requirement for modern historic exhibit display,” Martin said. “You have to provide things that people can do rather than just be a passive learner, reading the text and seeing the graphics.”
In addition to the regional museum conference award, the Tennessee Parks and Recreation Association recognized Martin’s students last year for their museums award. Martin himself received the association’s Volunteer Service Award for mentoring the students involved in the Bradley project.
You can learn more about this recognition, as well as more details on the Bradley Academy project, here.
Also, in March 2018, the Tennessee Association of Museums recognized the project with two awards of excellence: one for digital interactives and one for the permanent exhibit.
Fisher also won the Best in Graduate Research award at V. W. Starr’s “History across the Humanities” conference in Youngstown, Ohio in January 2018.
For more information about the MTSU Public History Program, contact Martin at 615-898-2643 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about Bradley Academy Museum and Cultural Center, call 615-962-8773.
— Gina K. Logue (email@example.com)