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Gregg County Historical Museum exhibit filled with signs of progress in race relations

By Glenn Evans
Feb. 2, 2012 at 10 p.m.

Marva Stanford held a glass as she stood beside a table with two pitchers of water, one marked for whites and the other, "colored."

It was Thursday night, in the year 2012.

Stanford drained her glass, which she had filled from another table where punch was waiting for anyone attending the Black History Month Exhibit at the Gregg County Historical Museum.

The black artist, whose handmade dolls posed nearby, barely pondered which pitcher she would have drank had she needed to choose.

"Oh, I would just go and drink," she said, ignoring the sign which was found in the museum's holdings. "Yeah, we've come a long way, but we've still got some ways to go."

Visitors strolling the circuit of exhibits, which will be up through March 2 along the walls of the museum's education center, might be struck by how recently some discriminatory attitudes prevailed.

A Longview Daily Leader front page headline announcing, "Negro Hanged at San Augustine," is from way back in 1920. But, a 1964 Longview News-Journal invitation to a Best Baby contest included the word, "white," in parentheses so there would be no confusion over which babies could enter.

The first black Barbie doll, marketed in 1980, is on display with 25 or 30 versions that followed in the American icon's footsteps.

A doll wearing a scale replica of First Lady Michelle Obama's Bob Mackie gown stands a foot and a half tall.

One wall offers a dual journey - the American racial challenges and achievements from Harriet Tubman to modern day, interspersed with chapters written in Gregg County history.

A treasure box sits at one end, to be filled with the hopes that visitors may write for future historians to read.

"I remember growing up here in segregation and how it was," Lesa Maatouk of Longview said, recalling when students from the all-black, Mary C. Womack High School joined her and fellow whites at Longview High School. "It had to be terribly hard to lose the school you had and be forced into a school where there was a whole lot of hostility."

Looking at the Barbies, 24-year-old Marcita Bowie did not remember a time when no dolls had her skin color.

The Longview business owner said exhibits like the one in the museum inform younger people of the potholes and pits their elders negotiated every day.

"A lot of times, I think my generation, we do things without knowing what our ancestors stood for - not because we don't want to know but because we weren't told," she said. "My generation, it's up to us to determine whether other generations to come are taught."

She noted the date of the Best (white) Baby solicitation.

"It's not too long ago, it really isn't," Bowie said. "It's not to bring up anything of the past, it's to see what was there and what is now - and the progress we've made now."



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