People of color inventors and inventions museum


People of Color’ exhibit opens at Gateway Mall (5156 – 1 Norwood Ave., Jacksonville, FL) by Charlie Patton, July 1, 2010 (The Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville.com)

For 15 years, Ernestine Johnson has collected photos, posters and memorabilia about black history. Wanting to share her passion for the past, she would set up tables wherever someone provided space so she could put her collection on display. But as the collection grew – she estimates she now has 1,500 items – operating it as a traveling museum became increasingly difficult. Which is why she was particularly excited when she was provided free space in the Gateway Mall to permanently house her collection. Johnson opened the doors to assorted visitors, including representatives from the Duval County school system.

“I think it’s absolutely great,” School Board member Betty Burney said after getting a short tour from Johnson. She said she will recommend to schools Superintendant Ed Pratt-Dannals that field trips to Johnson’s “People of Color” exhibit become part of the county’s history curriculum.

That would delight Johnson, who said one of her main motivations is to educate.

“Our people don’t know their culture,” she said.

Burney said she was particularly excited to see an exhibit of photos and an editorial cartoon on the life of Thurgood Marshall, who as an attorney argued that school segregation should be outlawed in the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education U.S. Supreme Court decision. Later, Marshall became the first African-American member of the court.

Retired Rear Adm. Gene Kendall said he decided to visit the museum because “I just love history.” He came away impressed.

“This is a tremendous thing she’s doing,” he said. “It’s also fun.”

Looking at an elaborate antique ironing board in Johnson’s collection, he smiled. “That’s a work of art.”

It was meeting a woman who ran a California museum devoted to black inventors that inspired Johnson to start her collection. So, not surprisingly, she had a large section of her museum devoted to black inventors. The museum also has a section devoted to the Harlem Renaissance, a section devoted to African history and a display focusing on the election of Barack Obama.

Playwright Brenda Watford, who said she is working on a play to go with Johnson’s exhibit on the Harlem Renaissance, said she loved “the fullness” of Johnson’s approach to black history.

“It’s a wonderful project,” she said.

Charles Sneed, born in 1940, said he would recommend a visit to the museum to his friends.

“For me, it brings back memories,” he said.

Johnson said she plans to operate the museum from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week.

Admission will be free, but donations will be welcomed.

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