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Lynn Museum is planning “Untold Stories: A History of Black People in Lynn” exhibit this summer

From left, Iris Kimber, Judith Marshall, Sue Walker, and Richard Valentine look through photos that will be featured in the "Untold Stories: A History of Black People in Lynn" exhibit on display at the Lynn Museum this summer. (Owen O'Rourke)

LYNN — Lynn Museum is planning an ambitious, long-overdue exhibit this summer: “Untold Stories: A History of Black People in Lynn.” The only problem is the museum’s archives contain precious few artifacts from the city’s black population.

Event organizers are confident that will change on March 2, when the museum hosts a Lynn Black History Story Share event from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Anyone with a connection to the black community in Lynn is encouraged to attend, whether they are long-timers or new to the city.

Judith Marshall, education manager, said an interview/videotaping station will be set up to record contributors’ stories and memories. Possible topics of interest might include family, civil rights, work, religion/spirituality, schools, neighborhoods, and society/culture (bars, shops, barbers, hairdressers, dances). A maximum of five photographs or documents per contributor will be scanned, but contributors may bring more photographs to share.

Susan Walker, public engagement coordinator, said the museum has been preserving Lynn’s history since 1897, but about 99 percent of its collection is white. “The complete story of Lynn hasn’t been told yet. We must do our job of telling Lynn’s history, and it’s a diverse story,” she said.

“In addition to using objects and photographs from the museum’s collection,” added Marshall, “we’re reaching out to the black community. We want to tell the nuanced story of black people in Lynn through their own words, along with the personal photographs and objects they choose to share with us.”

Iris Kimber, Lynn Museum trustee and Exhibition Committee member, said this exhibit will spotlight “living history. It will not only be photographs that are 100 years old.”

Kimber was born in Miami but grew up with her parents and five siblings in Lynn’s America Park, a long-gone predominately white housing project. Her father, Leonard, who worked for Lynn Water & Sewer, and his family were longtime Lynn residents. Her mom, Alice, was of Bahamian descent and met Leonard when he was stationed at the Navy’s submarine base in Florida.

His family was so large, said Kimber, “The joke was, if a new kid came to school, we’d have to check with my father and ask ‘Are we related?’ It usually turned out we were.”

Committee member Richard Valentine, born and raised in Lynn, is a Classical High alum who graduated from Salem State University last year with a community education degree. “I’ve been with the museum for only about a year and a bit. First, I had no idea Lynn had a museum. But I sent a letter to Judith about an internship.” He’s stayed active, and says the “Untold Stories” project ties right into his degree.

“There are and have been so many black people in Lynn, when they come to the Lynn Museum they should be able to see their history and hear their story told,” said Valentine.

Kimber, retired from a career in corporate marketing and public relations, graduated from Classical High, Brandeis University and Boston University, where she majored in journalism. “Black people have been in Lynn for more than 250 years, but with few exceptions, most notably Frederick Douglass and Jan Matzeliger, their lives and history here have remained anonymous,” she said. “We hope this exhibit will change that by showcasing the dignity and resilience of blacks in the city then and now.”

Douglass was an American social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer, and statesman. After escaping from slavery in Maryland, he became a national leader of the abolitionist movement in the 1880s while living in Lynn. Matzeliger, an inventor whose lasting machine brought significant change to the manufacturing of shoes in the 1880s, lived in Lynn and is buried in Pine Grove Cemetery.

Kimber, Valentine and Walker said Matzeliger’s story was never taught in school, but all three said Lynn was a great place to grow up. “I was just one of the kids, not a black kid,” said Kimber. Valentine agreed, saying his best friend is from Cambodia and his classmates were a diverse group. “I didn’t know I was black until I went to college,” said Valentine, with a smile. Walker said color and ethnicity was never an issue: “We were just kids that played together.”

Walker said there is a huge need for volunteers on March 2 to help collect this part of Lynn’s history. Training sessions will be at the museum, 590 Washington St., on Tuesday at 6 p.m., and Wednesday at 10 a.m. The “Untold Stories” exhibit will open in July or August.

For additional information, to volunteer or have questions answered, contact Judith Marshall at 781-581-6200 or at judith@lynnmuseum.org. If you are unable to volunteer but would like to help out, consider a contribution to the non-profit museum’s 2019 exhibit fund, which helps with the cost of programs, research and installation; donations may be made here: https://www.tickettailor.com/events/lynnmuseumhistoricalsociety/234995/

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