Emporia State students, faculty create exhibit celebrating Black Emporia

May 26, 2011

Holdings in the Emporia State University Archives are a key part of an exhibit opening in early June.

“Stringtown: A Short Look at Black Emporia 1850-1920” opens June 4 at the Emporia Arts Center, 815 Commercial St. in Emporia. An opening reception will be at 7 p.m. June 4. The exhibit pays tribute to the Black community that emerged in Emporia. Traditionally, African-American families lived in the east side of Emporia, in a neighborhood locally known as “String-town.” This term symbolized poverty and thrift, and was a common description of African-American communities and neighborhoods in many Midwestern towns.

Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper editor William Allen White immortalized the use of “Stringtown” to describe the neighborhood in an editorial he wrote for The Emporia Gazette after the funeral in May 1921 of his only daughter, Mary.

The exhibit was designed by students and faculty at Emporia State University and Flint Hills Technical College. It was created for “Emporia Celebrates the Flint Hills,” a weeklong event designed to coincide with the Symphony in the Flint Hills on June 11 in Wabaunsee County.

“Stringtown” features holdings in the archives from several different collections — The Willa Grider Mitchell Family Photographs and Newspaper Clips, Black Emporia: Interpretations and Connections Collection, the Walter M. Andersen Collection, the Penelope “Nellie” Covert Papers and the Cecil Carle Collection.

The Black Emporia collection in the ESU Archives includes information and oral histories collected by members of Emporia's East Side Community Group and was donated by Dr. Carol Marshall, retired ESU faculty member, Elizabeth Williams and the late Nellie Essex.

Carlos Pringle, a graduate student in the Department of Social Sciences at ESU, was the chief investigators. Trenton A. Fay, another social sciences graduate student, was in charge of permissions research and imaging for the project. Both worked as interns supervised by Heather Wade, university archivist, for courses taught by Dr. Gregory Schneider, social sciences professor, and Dr. Joyce Thierer, associate professor of social sciences.

Panels for the exhibit were designed by Jason Brinkman, instructor in the Graphic Arts Technology department at Flint Hills Technical College in Emporia, and Logan Grieder, an FHTC student.

Finally, in proof that today’s global society is smaller than one would think, Eric Olsen, marketing director at 3iGraphics, a company in Binghamton, N.Y., that printed the panels for the exhibit, told Wade that he was one of six umpires who officiated the NCAA Division II College World Series in 2009 in which ESU’s baseball team finished second.

The Emporia Arts Center is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. Beginning June 1, the hours will be 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. The arts center is closed Sundays.

The exhibit will remain up at the arts center through June 11.

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