When the Noble Hill-Wheeler Memorial Center held their annual Labor Day picnic this year they decided to give it a twist. Noble Hill School alumni were invited to take part in the food and games, but were also asked to share their memories of the school.
Alumni were asked to sit before a video camera and answer questions such as how they got to school or who their favorite teacher was. Board member Marian Coleman said the video was a way to preserve a part of history for future generations.
“I got the idea from my kids not knowing some of mine, some of our, relatives. ... I said, well, this is something we need to do so that students or young people can understand what went on during the time when we were in school, and in comparison with what they do now in school, to see how far we’ve come.”
Coleman said she hoped students would learn from the videos and museum exhibits about the segregated school and not make the same mistakes that were made in the past. The board is also looking to expand its membership and raise funds to repair the school’s roof and install shades to protect exhibited photographs.
Approximately 60 invitations went out to Noble Hill alumni, and Coleman said she had heard back from most of them. While she hoped for a large turnout in spite of the rain, she realized everyone would not be able to attend.
“But I asked them to send me information that I could still put in the files,” she said.
The video is intended to focus on what Noble Hill students remember about their day-to-day lives at the school, as Coleman said most of the questions she received from visiting students focused on what happened in the classroom.
“A lot of times we get students that come in and they ask us questions about what we did when we went to school — what classes we had or what games we played, what songs we sung,” she said. “Did we have field trips, did we have a cafeteria and all this kind of stuff, so I thought if I had on video actual students talking about what they did ... I could show the video.”
Dr. Deborah Johnson-Simon, a museum anthropologist, had volunteered to record the conversations and recollections of the Noble Hill alumni. She specializes in studying African-American museums and also visits them with Alzheimer’s patients as a way to offset the disease’s effects. She discovered Noble Hill when she was with a patient.
“This was one of the places that clicked for them. It was so exciting because after almost a year of working with this lady, [who] was just not responding well — I had difficulty for her to even want to get out of the house, let alone go to museums. She came to this museum and met Miss Marian and it was such an experience for her. She hasn’t stopped talking about it,” Johnson-Simon said.
She said it was even more exciting because Alzheimer’s patients tend to remember the past more than recent events. However, the visit to Noble Hill was still fresh in her patient’s mind. Johnson-Simon believed Noble Hill was a “special place” because of what the board was trying to do.
“They have such a wealth here and it can mean so much to so many people. ... I think the fact that they have an annual program and that they’re trying to capture the memories, I think that is the best thing that can happen right now,” she said.