Three and a half years after faculty and students set out to shine a light on a hidden part of Staunton’s black community, a documentary film chronicling the lives and stories of those city residents made its début at the Visulite theater in downtown Staunton in December and had a second screening on the Mary Baldwin campus in January.
Threads of History: Conversations with a Community, visually records the recollections of Booker T. Washington High School alumni, their teachers, and past and present residents of the adjacent Johnson Street neighborhood.
The project began as an interdisciplinary Mary Baldwin University May Term class in 2013 with Artist-in-Residence Claudia Bernardi and instructors from her School of Art in Perquin, El Salvador. It involved students with many different majors and interests and drew on the talents and knowledge of Associate Professor of Art Marlena Hobson, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Film Allan Moyé, and Associate Professor of History Amy Tillerson-Brown. Students and faculty members gathered stories and created drawings and eventually three murals.
After the initial MBU effort was largely publicized, Booker T. Washington alumni from all over the country said they wanted to be a part of the project. The undertaking gained traction and students collected more stories, which are now the basis of the documentary.
“It’s an oral history,” said Associate Professor Emerita of Art History Marlena Hobson, one of the faculty members instrumental in the Threads of History project. “They talked about how [their community] was before integration and how it fell apart after integration.”
Developed and produced by Adjunct Faculty Member and Director of Communication Studios Allan Moyé, with help from his students, the film focuses on intersections, relationships, and the school as a prevailing thread that links all aspects of life during segregation. In the film, participants tell of a supportive educational atmosphere and a neighborhood that nurtured its own.
The MBU team was able to earn the trust of skeptical residents, who eventually opened up and told their stories, thanks in large part to support from community members such as the late city councilwoman Rita Wilson ’82 and Booker T. Washington High School alumni Larry Vickers and Lalaura Wayland.