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Black History Month events ‘open the windows’ to museum donations

Rev. George Perry and Bessie Jackson

The Rev. George Perry and Black History Museum Committee Chairwoman Bessie Jackson of St. Frederick’s Baptist Church in Marble Falls with some of the many items they have gathered for museum displays. Several wooden statues and the dress Jackson is wearing were given to her by a local couple who recently visited Africa. Jackson is putting them in the museum when it is built. Staff photo by Suzanne Freeman

Abolitionist Harriet Tubman, freedom quilts, and 2018 Marble Falls High School graduate Mya Berkman all will be honored as part of two celebrations of Black History Month in February at St. Frederick’s Baptist Church, 301 Avenue N. in Marble Falls. 

The church choir is performing spirituals from 6-8 p.m. Feb. 18 at the church. Both the concert and a festival of food and entertainment from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Feb. 25 are free and open to all, but donations will be especially appreciated as proceeds go toward building a Black history museum on church grounds. 

“I have designs in the works, and we are waiting on information from the city so we can get our plat done and approved,” said the Rev. George Perry of St. Frederick’s. “Then, we can start building.”

St. Frederick’s has raised enough to pour a foundation, which will happen as soon as a plat is approved in the next month or two. The church will add on to the museum as it raises funds, the same way it built its new fellowship hall. 

“We can do it bit by bit as we get the money,” said Bessie Jackson, chair of the museum committee. “That way, we won’t have any notes on the building.”

Jackson, Perry, and others in the congregation have already collected quite a few artifacts and archives for the museum, much of which can be seen in the fellowship hall. The displays change frequently as new items are donated, and Jackson refocuses wall hangings on different historical figures or locals who have achieved success. 

“I’m working on Harriet Tubman now and what she went through,” Jackson said. “I want to use that to bring it home to people, like Mya (Berkman), who are successful despite hardships. I mean, if it had not been for Harriet Tubman, we would not have the opportunities to do what we are doing today.”

Berkman has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in accounting from Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, and is working on a Master of Business Administration. She plays center for the Liberty Flames women’s basketball team. Her list of accolades both on and off the court is too long for these pages. Photos in her St. Frederick’s display include one of her with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and another of her and her teammates in the “Bigger Than Life” mural at Liberty University. 

For the Tubman display, Jackson plans to showcase a quilt made by a group of women at Trinity Episcopal Church in Marble Falls that features some of the symbols believed to have been used as code by escaped slaves on the Underground Railroad. 

Not an actual railroad, the Underground Railroad was a series of secret routes slaves took to freedom. They looked for symbols on quilts or drawn in the dirt or on buildings to lead them north or help them find safe places for food and rest.

Tubman was a station master on the Underground Railroad. She helped escaping slaves find sustenance and sanctuary and is closely linked in history to the freedom quilts.

Symbols used included a wrench quilt block indicating it was time to prepare the tools needed for escape; a wagon wheel meaning load up and go; a bear’s paw advising people to use a mountain trail; and a log cabin assuring freedom seekers that a home was a safe place for food or rest. 

The symbols were derived from African art and communicated necessary information to people who could not read or write and did not know U.S. geography. 

“A lot of people don’t understand the logistics of the freedom quilts,” Jackson said. “Not only did the quilts serve as warmth, they were used as a code system to communicate.” 

For the Highland Lakes community, the Black history museum will be a modern-day education tool, Jackson said. She is working closely with The Falls on the Colorado Museum and the Burnet County Historical Commission to collect artifacts, photos, and documents and apply for grants, but the lack of a building stands in the way. 

The county commission and the Texas Historical Commission can’t help until the museum is a reality. 

“They can’t do anything because it’s not tangible; it’s not brick and mortar right now,” Jackson said. “We can get up to $50,000 at a time, but we have to have something tangible.”

In the meantime, the church plans to hold monthly fundraising events with barbecue dinners being a big favorite. 

“We do very well with brisket and fried fish, but we have to wait until the Lord sends someone by with brisket,” Jackson said. “We need about six for every dinner, and it’s getting more and more expensive.” 

The Rev. Perry cooks the brisket, while Jackson creates cobblers for dessert. Neither are worried about raising money or filling display cases. They already have ideas churning for programs, speakers, and workshops they can host in a classroom included in the museum’s design. 

“‘Open the windows of heaven; I will pour you out a blessing,’” said Jackson, quoting Malachi 3:10 from the Old Testament of the Bible. “The more we give, the more comes in. Soon as we get down to nothing, God comes in.” 

That has proven especially true of the 250-plus meals the church delivers to homebound residents in and around Marble Falls and Granite Shoals, an example, Jackson said, of a diverse community working together. 

“Maybe five of those 250 plates are for Black people,” Jackson said. “We don’t just serve the Black community. The other thing is that the money that supports our food ministry comes from white people through donations of equipment, food, and money.”

Anyone wanting to donate to the museum, whether artifacts, documents, photos, furniture, money, or time helping with construction, may contact Jackson or Perry at the church at 830-693-4499. Send checks to St. Frederick’s Baptist Church, P.O. Box 812, Marble Falls, TX 78654. 

Donations also can be sent through the Cash app by typing in $Stfrederick20. If you see the name George, it’s the right one!