Virtual Community Museum unveiled

June 24, 2011

Virtual Community Museum unveiled

June 16, 2011

A photo of two small girls sitting on their front porch. An adoption certificate. An interview with an elderly Syracuse resident, sharing memories of life in Syracuse many decades ago.

These are a few of the hundreds of items shared by Syracuse residents that form a rich tapestry offering a rare glimpse into black life in Syracuse and Central New York. Organizers of Syracuse’s Black History Preservation Project have brought that tapestry to life in a Virtual Community Museum, which was unveiled during a special event on Saturday, June 18. The event, included a reception, unveiling of the museum, a special performance by local musical artist Brian Freeland, who composed a song for the occasion, and a 30-minute showing of the “15th Ward and Beyond” documentary, which was premiered at Syracuse Stage last year.

The Virtual Community Museum, found online at, is aimed at preserving the history of black people in Syracuse and Central New York, from roughly the 1860s on, in one forum. Central New York is rich in African American history—from the early abolitionists and suffragists to the migration from the South to the vibrant 15th Ward. Currently, most of that information is scattered throughout the area within churches, community organizations and private residences.

A tour through the online museum reveals rich history through video and audio interviews with local residents, photos, newspaper articles, handwritten notes and other treasures.

The idea to bring those pieces of history together in one place evolved in 2008. The South Side Initiative Office at Syracuse University brought together several community partners, including the Onondaga County Public Library, Onondaga County Historical Association, Dunbar Association, City of Syracuse Office of Multicultural Affairs, UMI Associates and local residents and church representatives, together with an interdisciplinary team from SU to move the project forward. The group has worked with local design firm Daylight Blue Media to develop the museum.

“The museum was developed with the preservation of the African American community at heart,” says community member Vernita King.

“It is an opportunity to share with the world our stories that may have never been told or recorded for history,” says King. “It affords people an opportunity to share with others those events and memories of how things used to be—how women dressed, the kinds of work granddad did, etc. In essence, the Virtual Community Museum is a wonderful tool for teaching, preservation and reflection of African Americans, whose history is so often lost or told by someone else. It is a museum through which we openly offer the opportunity to all to observe and learn the rich history of African Americans in Syracuse and the surrounding areas.

Since 2008, SU faculty, staff and students have conducted community workshops on identifying and preserving family collections and local history; collected oral histories from community members; and digitized photos and documents. A Digital History Fair will be held on Saturday, June 25, from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. at Grace Episcopal Church, 819 Madison St., for residents to bring photos and documents to be digitized and considered for inclusion in the virtual museum.