Tables covered in stacks of old newspapers stand near one another at the center of the Petaluma Historical Library. Here and there are large wooden display stands, about half of them now displaying clippings, photos, framed declarations, and more.
At the center of it all is Faith Ross, curator and organizer of the Museum’s annual Black History Month Exhibition, which Ross and a team of volunteers are hard at work ahead of this Thursday’s opening day, February 8. The exhibit, titled “Reflections,” is one of many events being held around town to mark Black History Month in Petaluma, which kicked off last Friday with a jazz concert in the museum.
“This year is a kind of special, because it’s our 40th year doing these events,” says Ross, founder of Petaluma Blacks for Community Development (PBCD), formed to support a sense of community and to present events honoring African American history. PBCD has been the driving force behind the annual Black History events since forming in 1978. “We have different themes every year,” explains Ross. “Last year we did an exhibit on black athletes. We’ve done exhibits on black musicians, and on women fighting for civil rights. This year, with the theme “Reflections,” we’re looking back at what has happened over the years. That’s looking back to 1978, when we started doing these exhibits and events, with everything between then and now, but also looking back the 1800s, and the first back people to make Petaluma their home.”
Ross says that every year, after a theme is selected, material begins to be collected. Some of that material, like the clippings and newspapers now being assembled on the tables, is kept in boxes, while other items, found through searches on the internet, go directly onto Ross’s thumb-drive.
“By the beginning of the year, I end up with whole a lot of things on my thumb drive,” she laughs.
The current exhibit includes a display focusing on President Obama, and another taking a look at the life of Michael Jackson. One display examines the impact of 9-11.
“Some of the exhibit is national events, like 9-11,” Ross acknowledges. “And a lot of it is local events, things that happened here in Petaluma, things that affected the black community. Though 9-11 affected everybody, black people and white people, people here and everywhere.”
Over the years, the annual exhibit has become a must-see event for many Petalumans, Ross says.
“We have regulars who come every year to see what’s new,” she says. “And a number of teachers in town require their students to come, or give them extra credit to come to the exhibit. And sometimes teachers will encourage students to come to the jazz concert we always have, and have them write an essay about the concert.”
Ross adds that for 2018, one of the elements she’s most excited about is a video that will screened on Saturday, Feb. 24, during the annual celebration to be held at the Veteran’s Hall. In addition to dance performances by local elementary schools, Petaluma filmmaker Lee Cummings will present a documentary chronicling the last 40 years of Black History Month celebrations in Petaluma.
“It tells the history of this group, and why it started,” she explains. “It’s got interviews from six members of the organizations, telling stories of when they first came to Petaluma, and what it was like, how they were treated when they first arrived, and how they made a home here. Interwoven into those interviews will be pictures from different things that have happened here in town, and a lot of our activities over the last 40 years. I’m looking forward to sharing that with the community.”
BLACK HISTORY MONTH
Reflections: Black History Exhibit – Runs Thursday, Feb. 8 through Sunday, Feb. 25, at the Petaluma Historical Library and Museum. Hours: Thursday-Saturday 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; Sunday 12 p.m.-3 p.m. Petaluma Museum is at 20 Fourth St.
Children’s Story Time – Saturday, Feb. 10, 10 a.m. “Henry’s Freedom Box,” by Ellen Levine and Kadir Nelson. In this true story from the days of the Underground Railroad, a boy named Henry’s grows up under the yoke of Southern slavery, and eventually decides to mail himself to freedom in the North inside a wooden box. Petaluma Museum, 20 Fourth St. This event is free. Parents must be present.
40th Annual Black History Program – Saturday, Feb. 24 at 5:30 p.m. An entertaining evening of community celebration, with a presentation of music and dancing, and a look at the last 40 years of Black History Month in Petaluma, in the form of a video by Lee Cummings. Petaluma Veterans Building, 1094 Petaluma Blvd. This event is free.
Annual Gospel Hour – Sunday, Feb. 25, 4 p.m. Petaluma Christian Church, 1160 Schuman Lane. Free.