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Heritage museum preserves the history of African Americans in Rutherford County

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Dr. J. Lee Greene founded the African American Heritage Museum in 2012 after doing research on his own family.

Nestled in the Grahamtown Community is a museum that serves to preserve the heritage of the community and the county.

The African American Heritage Museum of Rutherford County began in 2012, and received its non-profit status last fall. The museum is located in the Old Dunbar Community Center on Hardin Road, and is open by appointment.

There are three permanent exhibits on display, but in the museum's collection exists more artifacts that museum organizers hope to eventually have the space to display.

"Really how we got started was with Dr. Lee Greene, who found photos of schools his grandfather built," said Teresa Proctor, one of the museum's volunteers. "This became his pet project - he began interviewing people to learn more. Our school days room opened in May 2012."

The school days exhibit features information on African American community schools that existed throughout the county and into upper South Carolina and Polk County.

"The first African American college, the Western Union Academy and College, was located where Stonecutter was," Proctor said, pointing to a photo. "It burned in the early 1900s."

Another exhibit, Home Lives, focuses on the clothes, home items and more that would've been used from the 1880s through the 1940s.

"Some of the items we had to look for, but many have been donated," Proctor explained. "We never ever tell anyone no."

Proctor, who is a Rutherford County native, met Greene and became fast friends through their mutual love of history.

"I got into history in junior high," she said. "I never stop doing research."

The Family Matters exhibit in the museum is close to Proctor's heart - many of the families are those that she is descended from. But, she added, she can't pick one favorite exhibit in the museum.

"I love all of it - these are my people," she said.

She speaks of those who are represented in the museum as though they are close family and friends - and after years spent with the artifacts, she is invested in them.

"If there is a piece of history out there, I will find it," she said.

Now that the museum has gotten its non-profit status, donations are tax deductible. The museum welcomes historical items for its collection.

"We are looking for a larger facility that would afford us the opportunity to expand the collection," she said.

To make an appointment, call 828-245-2478. Donations may be made to the African American Heritage Museum, PO Box 364, Forest City, NC 28043.

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