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African-American History Museum Seeks Support to Find New Home

Black Heritage Museum
Manager of the Doleman Black Heritage Museum

What started as the Doleman family’s personal collection of artifacts in 1972 has grown into an untold story of African-American history and culture in Hagerstown and Washington County.

Alesia Parson-McBean, administrator of the Doleman Black Heritage Museum, said Hagerstown is the perfect location to continue growing the young organization that got a jumpstart from many artifacts — some that date back to pre-Civil War 19th Century — collected by Charles and Marguerite Doleman, highlighting and preserving the rich African-American culture in the area.

“This is the story that has not been highlighted to the degree that the Civil War has been,” Parson-McBean said. “This is that missing piece.”

Parson-McBean and other DBHM representatives attended the Hagerstown City Council meeting Tuesday to update council members on the progress of the organization that started in 2008, just before receiving $150,000 in federal grant funding through the Institute of Museum and Library Services in 2010 that was administered by the city.

“History is important for any community,” City Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said. “Museums are important for communities. It’s culture … it’s our history. And we’ve been very, very lucky through the auspices of two administrations at being able to obtain federal grant money, which is very difficult to obtain for museums.”

The money was used for preservation of the museum’s growing collection of artifacts as well as to build four traveling exhibits, which included fabrication, and create a digital archive of numerous items, Parson-McBean told council members.

Other tasks completed thanks to the grant money included educational flash cards with worksheets, posters, brochures and thank-you cards, she said.

The project wrapped up earlier this summer.

“None of this could have happened without Kathy Maher of the planning department here at the city,” Parson-McBean said. “She was instrumental in working with us.”

The next step for the organization is to find a new home in downtown Hagerstown. Since its start, the museum’s collection has been housed at 540 N. Locust St., but now with many of the crucial tasks essential to a large-scale move taken care of, Parson-McBean said it’s time to look for at least a temporary location for the museum.

That undertaking has been difficult so far, she said, because many downtown buildings aren’t accessible for those who are handicapped, as per ADA requirements.

“That’s one of the major ones,” said Parson-McBean, a former city councilwoman who was in office when the concept of the organization was first put in motion in 2006. “And of course, you know with the downtown buildings, they don’t all qualify for the museum standard.”

Thanks to the efforts of local state legislators Del. John Donoghue and Sen. Don Munson in 2009, the Maryland General Assembly granted a $25,000 Bond Bill for the museum that will help in property acquisition and build-out of a new location, she said.

“Once we are able to get into suitable housing for the collection and the organization, we will be fine because there’s money out there,” Parson-McBean said, referring to other grant funding available for museums in operation.

Metzner said he will continue to support the museum because of the cultural and historical benefit it provides for Hagerstown, especially after the city was highly criticized for letting the Civil War medical museum pass by and land in Frederick.

“Here is a wonderful cultural item the city has been able to so far leverage financing federally, and it’s important for our culture to have this,” Metzner said.

Several of the newest items in the museum will be on display at the DBHM’s next fundraiser on Friday, Oct. 26 at Cortland Mansion, Parson-McBean said.

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