New Exhibit Shares African-Americans' Stories

Appomattox, VA - There's a new exhibit that shares African Americans' journey from slavery to freedom specifically in Appomattox.

The display is at the Appomattox Court House National Historical Park. It took historians quite a while to put this one together. In fact, park employees spent 10 years digging up the stories.

They could have done the standard display about slave life and emancipation in general. But they wanted to make this one personal and only tell stories of African Americans that actually lived in Appomattox in the Civil War era.

"These were stories waiting to be uncovered and this display brings those stories out," said Patrick Schroeder.

Schroeder is a historian at the Appomattox Court House National Park.

"These are reconstructed slave quarters," said Schroeder.

He spent years collecting stories to put on the walls.

"I can tell you for sure they haven't been on display before, most certainly," said Schroeder.

The story of Betty Johns came from one of her descendants. She was born a slave in Appomattox.

"She remembered when the soldiers came to Appomattox," said Schroeder.

Millie Stevens was a slave of the county clerk. She hid from the fighting in a ditch all the while with a baby in her arms.

"When she looked up out of the ditch, she saw a man carrying a white flag which signaled the end of the fighting and she was only 13 years old when all that occurred," said Schroeder.

Then there's the story of Joel Sweeney, a white man who bonded with slaves over music.

"There are different stories of him being out in the slave quarters listening to banjo players," said David Wooldridge, a museum technician.

After nearly a decade of research, park employees are anxious to share what they've learned.

"Now we have something that will be here for the foreseeable future, that every visitor can experience and learn from," said Schroeder.

Early on it was illegal for slaves to learn how to write so they didn't document their stories. So this project took a lot of hard work.