New exhibit features histories of notable Black families in Washtenaw County

A new interactive exhibit at Washtenaw Community College (WCC) tells the "origin stories" of four notable Black families from Ann Arbor, Pittsfield Township, and Ypsilanti.

The African American Cultural and Historical Museum of Washtenaw County (AACHM) partnered with WCC to bring "Family Foundations: Four Stories of Black Washtenaw County Community Building, 1850-1950" to The Gallery in WCC's Morris Lawrence Building. It features the historic Jewett, Asher-Aray, Kersey, and Bass families, including interviews, documents, and artifacts provided by descendants of each family as well as the University of Michigan Bentley Library. The exhibit will run through May 31 at WCC before it travels to the Ann Arbor District Library.

AACHM President and CEO Joyce Hunter explains that the exhibit began as a "humanities collaborative" with the Bentley Library, and it originally opened at the AACHM in December. She hopes the exhibit will be more accessible at WCC.

"We really want people to see this exhibit," Hunter says. "At WCC, people can go see the exhibit Monday through Saturday, which will hopefully provide more opportunities for people to come."

The exhibit’s opening reception took place on March 1, featuring panel discussions with descendants of the featured families. Hunter explains that the project was so well received by the project participants that some traveled from as far as California to view the finished exhibit.

Hunter says the collected materials from the exhibit have also been compiled into a book to be published by AADL’s Fifth Avenue Press. She says the book will "mirror" the exhibit while also featuring additional information that didn’t make it to the physical exhibit. Hunter says the book is complete and currently undergoing final edits before publishing later this year.

"There isn’t a whole lot of information ... about African American families in this area," she says. "We hope that folks come and learn something new, and get excited about the book and learning more."

The exhibit is open to view Mondays through Thursdays 8 a.m.-8 p.m., Fridays 8 a.m.-5 p.m., and Saturdays 8 a.m.-noon. It can also be viewed online here. More information on the exhibit or the AACHM is available here.

Rylee Barnsdale is a Michigan native and longtime Washtenaw County resident. She wants to use her journalistic experience from her time at Eastern Michigan University writing for the Eastern Echo to tell the stories of Washtenaw County residents that need to be heard.
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