‘Determined’ exhibit highlights the 400-year struggle for black equality

RICHMOND, Va. -- CBS 6 was given an early look at the new Virginia Museum of History and Culture exhibit that opens Saturday following the renaming dedication of the Boulevard to Arthur Ashe Boulevard.

"Determined: The 400-Year Struggle for Black Equality" takes a sweeping look at the 400 years since the first African-Americans were brought to Virginia as slaves.

"It focuses particularly on the myriad ways in which black Virginians have fought for equality," said museum curator Karen Sherry.

The exhibit flows in chronological order, broken up into four different eras, stretching from the arrival of the first slaves to present-day activism.

Sherry said the exhibit's name was inspired by a speech given by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in which he spoke of the struggle to get equality for African-Americans.

"And he kind of encapsulated that struggle by saying we are determined to be people," added Sherry. "I felt that that was a word that embedded many of the themes of the exhibition."

Sherry said since fitting 400 years of history into one museum exhibit is not feasible, she took the approach of focusing the exhibit around 30 key individuals and close to 100 historical objects.

"We use those stories to highlight broader historical trends and phenomena," said Sherry. "Their stories also reflect larger trends in Virginia and American society."

Karen Sherry

Some of the individuals might be lesser known, like Madison Washington.

"Who led the most successful slave revolt in U.S. history," said Sherry.

While others will be more recognizable, like Richmond-native, tennis star, and civil rights activist Arthur Ashe.

"He's highlighted not only for his remarkable achievements on the tennis court," said Sherry. "But, also for his status as a lifelong champion of human rights."

Sherry said she hopes that visitors to the exhibit come away with more than an appreciation of those 30 people.

"But also, a deeper understanding and appreciation for how intertwined black history is with American history," added Sherry. "And how black people have really shaped the nature of our country and the very definition of some of our deepest ideals like equality."

The new exhibit will open at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, following the dedication ceremony of Arthur Ashe Boulevard and will be free to the public for that day only.

Along with the main exhibit, the museum will also have two other exhibits related to Ashe.

The first is a series of "rarely seen" photos of Ashe taken by LIFE Magazine photographer John Zimmerman that documented Ashe's historic U.S. Open win in 1968. The photos are installed outside the museum's main entrance.

The second exhibit is an eight-minute virtual reality experience that allows visitors to relive the moments surrounding Ashe's 1968 U.S. Open victory.

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