The Highland County Historical Society’s opening of the long-awaited Lincoln School Exhibit drew a large crowd to a private reception on Friday evening, and an even bigger turnout for the public opening on Saturday and Sunday at the Highland Houses Museum in Hillsboro.
The Lincoln School Exhibit tells the story of the fight for integration of the Hillsboro elementary schools in the mid-1950s.
For several decades, the integration battle that took place in Hillsboro was seldom remembered or revisited, but in recent years it has been brought to the forefront by a variety of individuals and organizations. The Times-Gazette revisited the Lincoln School saga in an in-depth story in early 2016, the 60th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court ordering Hillsboro to immediately integrate its elementary school. Many readers said it was the first time they had heard about the drama that took place over a two-year period from 1954-56.
As described in a press release about the Lincoln School exhibit, “After the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954, the segregation of schools based on race was deemed unconstitutional. A group of African-American mothers from Hillsboro organized under the leadership of mother and activist Imogene Curtis and marched their children to the Webster Elementary School each weekday for two years, only to be turned away. Aided by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, this case went to the Supreme Court and became the first northern test case of the Brown v. Board of Education decision. The case was then used in other northern cities, such as Boston and Cleveland, to end segregation in their schools.”
On Friday, Kati Burwinkel, the project director for The Lincoln School Committee, welcomed guests and introduced several individuals whose efforts made the new permanent exhibit possible. Other committee members are Pamela Nickell, Deb Koehl, Charlotte Pack, Jim Rooney, Virginia Harewood, Carolyn Goins, Eleanor Cumberland, Teresa Williams, Joyce Kittrell and Elsie Young.
Also speaking Friday was committee member Joyce Clemons Kittrell, who was one of the African American children who participated in the marches and whose name was attached to the lawsuit that was filed against the Hillsboro school board. Many individuals involved with the program either participated in the marches or are descendants of those who marched.
A 17-minute documentary about the drama that unfolded more than 60 years ago was premiered over the weekend. The film, “The Lincoln School Story – A Battle for School Integration in Ohio,” was produced by award-winning filmmaker Andrea Torrice, and will be shown regularly at the Highland House. A DVD of the film is also available for purchase at the museum.
The liner notes of the DVD say the film “tells the inspiring story of how five courageous African American mothers and their children fought for school integration in 1954 in Hillsboro, Ohio.” The film details how the marches occurred each day, despite cross burnings and other threats.
The documentary features interviews with surviving marchers, archival photos and even video footage. It details the determination of the mothers to fight for their children’s right to enjoy the same educational standards and quality of their white counterparts. Throughout the opening weekend for the exhibit, a steady stream of people sat in an upstairs exhibit room at the Highland House to view the film.
The permanent exhibit also features original photographs and memorabilia that have been donated to the museum. The exhibit has received financial support from Ohio Humanities, South Central Power, Ohio Arts, and the Stephen H. Wilder Foundation.
Throughout June, the museum will also host the Brown v. Board of Education Traveling Exhibit “In Pursuit of Freedom and Equality: Kansas and the African American Public School Experience, 1855-1955,” sponsored by the Highland County Bar Association.
Several other events are scheduled at the Highland House Museum during June to celebrate the new exhibit.
• On June 17 at 2 p.m. the Chillicothe Community Male Chorus, with Wayne McLaughlin, will perform.
• On June 24 at 3 p.m. Hillsboro’s New Hope Baptist Church Choir will be singing.
“Weather permitting, bring a chair and join us out back by the cabin for these wonderful Baptist musical events,” the historical society said in the news release.
• On June 29 at 7 p.m. Kenyon College Professor Ric Sheffield will speak on “In the Wake of Brown: Color of Classrooms in Rural Ohio,” sponsored by Ohio Humanities.
The Highland House Museum is located at 151 E. Main St. and is open weekends from 1-4 p.m. All events are free to the public. For more information, call 937-393-3392 or go to www.lincolnschoolhillsboroohio.weebly.com.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.