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Museum seeks local recollections of civil rights era

The staff of the Florida Holocaust Museum is dedicated to learning from and preserving the history of people who are perceived as inferior to others.

The museum largely focuses on preserving the recollections of Holocaust survivors, but its team of historians now is reaching out to people in the Tampa Bay area who are willing to share their stories about the Civil Rights movement.

“This is the time to really capture those memories,” said Elizabeth Gelman, the museum’s executive director.

She and other staff members manned a booth Saturday at the Tampa Black Heritage Music Festival in downtown Tampa. While the music and large crowd made it too noisy to record the memories of interested participants on site as they had planned, they took down their names and contact information.

Once the museum is done collecting stories, the video memoirs will be posted to its website and some of them will be included in a national Civil Rights exhibit opening at the St. Petersburg museum in August.

The exhibit already features items and stories from the national movement, but the Holocaust Museum wanted to include the recollections of local people, said Maria Johnston, the museum’s director of advancement.

“And then the plan is to have us be a traveling show as well,” she said.

The museum is reaching out to anyone who has photographs, letters, journals, signs, stories and other materials that will help historians document the quest for Civil Rights in the bay area.

As with Holocaust victims, the museum wants their memories to be recorded before the people who can tell those stories aren’t around anymore, Gelman said.

Her museum has had a lot of experience recording memories of survivors — not just of the Holocaust, but also of the Jim Crow era, Armenian Genocide and Rwandan Genocide.

“We really see ourselves as an organization that promotes social justice,” Gelman said.

Jeronica Byrd was one of those who stopped by the museum’s booth at the festival, which continues today at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park.

She was raised by her great-grandmother and her great-great-grandmother, both of whom lived during the Civil Rights era. Ralph D. Abernathy, a leader of the American Civil Rights movement and an associate of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was her great uncle, she said.

The fight for civil rights “is in her blood,” Byrd said. She plans to post the museum’s information on her social media sites to help spread the word about the exhibit.

“I’m going to participate,” she said. “And I’m going to encourage other people to.”

If you want to contribute to the museum, email exhibits@flholocaustmuseum.org or call 727-820-0100 extension 271.

Ebehrman@Tampatrib.com

(813)259-7691

Twitter: @LizBehrmanTBO

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