Black history exhibit at Knox Middle shows heritage going back generations

Published 12:02 am Tuesday, March 3, 2020

By Carl Blankenship

SALISBURY – Traditional crafts, family heirlooms, books, posters and other black history artifacts dot a room in Knox Middle School.

The exhibit is the work of retired teacher A.J. Alexander. She was still teaching with the district when she created her first exhibit, made up of a collection of mostly items she has been building “forever.”

There was an old cauldron her grandmother would use to cook, make soap and boil clothes in. There were also some jugs used to create communion wine before grape juice became a popular alternative. A traditional sweetgrass basket of the sort that made its way to the U.S. as a craft of enslaved people from Ghana was also part of the exhibit.

Deputy Principal Christopher McNeil said the school has hosted the exhibit before. Alexander has expanded its contents and added some of the interesting historical pieces.

“We just like to make sure we have a diverse perspective on things and allow our students to understand,” McNeil said, adding the school wants to bring it back bigger and better next year.

McNeil said the exhibit has managed to draw attention from parents and some others in the community who have asked to view it in the school.

“I love black history,” Alexander said. “Not just because I’m African-American.”

Some of items in the exhibit are from one of Alexander’s college classmate’s collection, as well.

“We travel a lot together, we have the same interests, she’s three days older than I, we were born in the same month,” Alexander said. ”We just love to celebrate our ancestries and everything that black history is about.”

Alexander said she wants to encourage students to continue to celebrate black history just as people celebrate holidays to keep the knowledge alive.

During Black History Month, Teachers brought classes by to view the exhibit and ask questions about its contents. Some items were self-explanatory. Others had sheets of information with them or needed an explanation from Alexander. Laying on one of the tables was a list of 101 inventions by African Americans.

“As long as you speak about something, a subject, or you speak a person’s name, that helps to keep that person alive,” Alexander said. “I tell them just to think that today I’m still here, but my parents, my grandparents and other ancestors, and other enslaved people are not here, but just to be able to touch things that they touched or they used, that gives me gratification.”

About Carl Blankenship

Carl Blankenship has covered education for the Post since December 2019. Before coming to Salisbury he was a staff writer for The Avery Journal-Times in Newland and graduated from Appalachian State University in 2017, where he was editor of The Appalachian.

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