Each February, communities around the nation celebrate Black History Month. Martinsville-Henry County is home to both permanent exhibits and special events during the month. From the local African-American history museum FAHI, to the Fayette Street Historic District, there are numerous opportunities to submerge yourself in African-American culture in the area. Below are both permanent exhibits and special events that provide an educational experience!
Exhibits & Establishments
FAHI- Established in 2004, FAHI is a local grassroots organization formed for the purpose of creating a living institution that celebrates the past, current, and future history of the Fayette Street corridor and its surrounding communities. FAHI’s mission is to encourage a diverse group of people to examine the collection of artifacts and exhibits of the African American community of Martinsville-Henry County and surrounding areas to develop a perspective of their enriched experience, history, and culture. For more information or to book a group tour, call 276-732-3496.
The Fayette Street Historic Marker- The marker sits at the intersection of Fayette Street and Market Street in Uptown Martinsville and describes the rich history and heritage of the Fayette Street area. The district continues to represent the commercial and institutional center of the African-American community in Martinsville as one of its oldest neighborhoods. The 42-acre district includes 116 historically contributing buildings with architecture reflective of a number of styles: Late Victorian, Queen Anne; Late 19th & 20th century Revivals, Colonial and Tudor; Late 19th & 20th century American Movement, Commercial, American Foursquare, Bungalow, and Craftsman; and Folk Victorian Vernacular. The properties date to between 1900-1957. The district was listed in both the Virginia Landmarks Register and National Register of Historic Places in 2007. The Fayette Area Historical Initiative (FAHI) is working to preserve the community and houses a museum. The reads, “Since the late 19th century, Fayette Street has been a gateway to the business, social, and cultural life of African Americans here. Institutions such as Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church (founded in 1870), St. Mary’s Hospital (1900-1934), and Imperial Savings and Loan (founded in 1929) were pillars of this community. A part of the street known as Baldwin’s Block (1920s-1960’s) represented the entrepreneurial spirit of the people. Dr. Dana O. Baldwin and his brothers founded the June German Ball, which was held at a number of venues here. This annual musical and dance festival hosted world-renowned African American musicians that played to regional audiences”.
The Baldwin Block Canvases- The Baldwin Block Canvases depict a streetscape view of buildings and places significant to the history of this location on Fayette Street and the culture, including the Baldwin Pharmacy, Jobbers Pants Co., and Saint Mary’s Hospital among others. The three outdoor murals are on the Market Street side of the New College Institute building. Artist Amanda Honore’ Donley and representatives of NCI consulted with staff and board members of the Fayette Area Historical Initiative (FAHI) who recalled the vibrant African American community that inhabited the Baldwin Block during the early 1900s. Their guidance provided inspiration for the project.
June German Ball Mural- This mural, located on Martinsville's historic Fayette Street, celebrates the vibrant culture and heritage of the Fayette Street area. The mural depicts a fictional scene from one of Martinsville's famed June German Balls, which were popular within the African American community in the early part of the 20th century. These balls were held yearly, in the heat of June, and featured celebrated entertainers from the Jazz Age like Jimmie Lunceford & His Dance Orchestra, who performed at the event in 1938. Martinsville's June German Balls are a point of pride for the community and have become legend amongst local residents—whether or not they ever actually attended an event.
Piedmont Arts: Mike Wiley’s Tired Souls- Tired Souls opens in Montgomery, Alabama on December 1, 1955 – the day Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a city bus to a white man. Her determination was the catalyst that inspired Montgomery’s black citizens to abandon all travel on city buses until they were no longer forced to sit in the back or stand when a white person boarded. But there were others who came before Mrs. Parks and laid the groundwork for this pivotal moment. Tired Souls introduces audiences to Jo Ann Robinson, Claudette Colvin and others to instrumental in lighting a fire under the Civil Rights movement and changing the course of U.S. history forever. The event is February 20 with the reception at 6:30 pm, and the performance beginning at 7pm. General admission is $20 and student admission (K-12) is $10. You can find tickets at piedmontarts.org.
Piedmont Arts: African American Read-In + Family Day- Danville-based storyteller Fred Motley will perform at 11:30 am and 12:15 pm. A modern-day griot, Motley has traveled to festivals and other venues to teach African-American history, music and dance for over 30 years. His performances will include classic folktales, songs and stories from around the world. Community members will also read excerpts from books, stories and poems by their favorite African American authors. The event will be hosted February 22 and all ages are welcome. Complimentary snacks will be provided.
The Baldwin Legacy- Dr. Dana Olden Baldwin came to Martinsville in 1910 to serve the medical needs of the black community. In 1922, he built the shopping center known as “Baldwin’s Block” or “the Block”, at the corner of Fayette and Barton streets. The building contained a drug store, barber shop, pool parlor, social club room and a motion picture theatre. The building and a later one that replaced it became the center of the Martinsville’s black business district, which thrived along Fayette Street from the 1920s through the 1960s during the segregation era. This legacy of Dr. Dana Baldwin and the history of the Fayette Street area will be presented Marie Baldwin Hairston, niece of Dr. Baldwin, on February 12th from 12:00 – 1:30 pm at the New College Institute. This event is FREE to attend and sponsored by the LIFE series by the New College Institute. For more information or to RSVP, please contact NCI at 276.403.5671.
Fun Fact: Did you know that volunteers at the Bassett Historical Center traced Former First Lady Michelle Obama’s ancestors to Henry County?
Make your way to Martinsville-Henry County and experience the wealth of African American history and heritage this February for Black History Month. For more information about Black History Month events and exhibits in MHC, go to www.visitmartinsville.com, call us at 888.722.3498, or stop by the Visitor Center located at 191 Fayette Street Martinsville, VA 24112.