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Emerson gift helps grow History Museum's African-American content

During a 2010 interview, Norman Seay shared this photo of Jefferson Bank protesters being led to jail. A young William Clay, before he was elected to Congress, is second from left. Seay is the man wearing a hat and is behind the man with a pocket handkerc
Provided by Mr. Seay

A major gift is helping the Missouri History Museum contradict the notion that the civil rights movement was a quiet affair in St. Louis.

“The lunch-counter sit-ins happened in St. Louis before they happened in North Carolina, but people don’t know that story,” said Melanie Adams, managing director for community education and events. “People don’t realize that there were slaves suing for their freedom before Dred Scott. Those stories just are not out there being told.”

The technology company Emerson will donate $5 million to the museum to improve its African-American history offerings. Part of this project will be dedicated to giving a better account of what the St. Louis civil rights movement was. Funds will go toward programs, artifacts and better integration of African-American historical content into all of the museum’s offerings. The museum will also expand its K-12 educational opportunities and develop a civil rights lecture.

According to Adams, the museum has been attempting to tackle representations of the civil rights movement for a while.

“This will just provide us with the opportunity to continue to tell it, maybe tell it in some different ways so that it sticks,” she said, "but really kind of get rid of that myth that there was no civil rights movement in St. Louis.”

While attacking that myth, the museum hopes to improve its collection of historical items that better tell the African-American narrative of St. Louis. According to Adams, curators will be looking for daily items that help tell a story, not just the relics of famous people.

“We want your items to be able to tell these stories, family quilts, there are so many different objects out there that tell the St. Louis story,” she said.

The institution hopes to work closely with individuals and communities. The museum needs to raise another $5 million to fully fund an endowment for these anticipated projects.