The Hannibal African American Life and History Project (HAALHP) museum, Freedom Center, is not only moving to its first permanent location, at 509 North Third St., the free museum also is adding a new program.
Faye Dant, HAALHP founder and executive director, reported a $2,500 grant has been received from the Missouri Humanities Council (MHC). “The grant will help HAALHP relocate the ‘museum,’ which was previously located in the Hannibal History Museum, to a new stand-alone facility with a new attraction for residents and tourists,” Dant said.
“Thanks to the generosity of the Marion County Historical Society and the City of Hannibal, we are moving to The Old Welshman’s House at 509 Third Street,” she continued. “This one-room building, once located on Denkler’s Alley, was built in the early 1800s was rescued from demolition by the Marion County Historical Society. Our new home remains in the Mark Twain Historic District and is historically significant to the African American community because it was likely built by Hannibal slaves and is said to have been used to store ammunition for Union soldiers during the Civil War.”
At the June 4 meeting of the Hannibal City Council, a first reading was given a lease agreement between the city, Dant and the Marion County Historical Society regarding the Welchman House for establishment of the museum. The lease payment will be $1 per year. Dant noted that the city and historical society “have been very generous to me, and I am grateful we were able to come to an agreement.”
The new program will be The Huck Finn Freedom Center: Jim’s Journey, Dant said. “We hope to document the life of ’Jim,’ aka Daniel Quarles, who would have lived as a slave and as a free man in 19th Century Hannibal. You will learn that ‘Jim’ in Huckleberry Finn is the first African American character in American literature portrayed as a full-fledged human being with a wife, Sadie, and children, Jonnie and Lisbeth.
“Jim is based on Daniel Quarles, a slave young Samuel Clemens knew and admired on his uncle’s farm in Florida, Missouri,” Dant said. “We have learned that Daniel was born in 1805, was emancipated in 1855 and from 1873 until his death in 1894 lived with his family in Hannibal. The family home, acquired in later years, still stands at 2120 Gordon St.”
Opened for Juneteenth
with July grand opening
As she prepares for the building’s grand opening in July, Dant is “particularly excited about the new direction and the projects it has taken on," including private tours during the Juneteenth celebration from Wednesday, June 19, to Friday, June 21.
"We will have an official grand opening in mid-July,” so all the board members can attend, she said. Donald Scott is board president. Additional members are Dant and her husband Joel Dant, Lisa Marks, Jim O’Donnell and Phil Smith.
Page 2 of 3 - Faye and Joel Dant are associate teachers at Hannibal High School, so Faye will not always be at the new museum. She has one support person, her sister-in-law, Charlotte Muldrew.
Dant will have the museum open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday to Saturday, and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. She suggests people visiting it park at the Mark Twain Museum Interpretive Center.
As Dant prepared to open the museum, she was glad to be working with a small museum consultant, and she believes the small building “will be better utilized, and the display will be based on the consultant’s recommendations. ... Ultimately we want a bigger space and to have more around the community, like in New London, Palmyra and Monroe City.”
Donations from the public are welcome at the museum, Dant said, including “anything they want to contribute about African American life in this area.” To make a donation contact Dant by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Monetary donations for the museum may be made to the Northeast Missouri Community Foundation (NEMO) a local organization led by Frank Di Tillo.
Dant was pleased to have volunteer help from HHS students, including some from the historical preservation classes. “They have done landscaping and painting and moved me into the new building,” she said “They are sweet kids with a lot of energy and the muscle we needed to get it done.”
HHS has been provided a HAALHP display, she said, which “mainly talked about segregated education. A lot of instructors would bring their students, and I would do a mini-presentation.”
She also had classes come see the display when it was at the Hannibal History Museum, and she hopes classes will continue to visit at the new location.
Exhibits include photographs, newspaper clippings, furniture, clothing and other artifacts, that depict what African American life was like in Hannibal from slavery to the late 1950s.
“HAALHP will continue to tell the story of survival and courage of African Americans who were brought to Missouri as slaves living on the shores of the Mississippi River and in Northeast Missouri,” Dant said. “We will also introduce many prominent African American characters from Samuel Clemens’ experience and writings as we explore the role literature played in the fight against racism and the place humor and satire can play in the movement for social justice.”
Dant described the new HAALHP location as “a place where people can meet and share ideas, as literary experts are taking a look at the portrayal of African Americans in the works of Mark Twain and are discovering characters of dignity, intellect, and inspiration.”
Another HAALHP exhibit is at Roland Library at Hannibal-LaGrange University. This exhibit features religion and African-American churches in Hannibal, Dant said and “It will probably be there through October.”
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