Sign of Segregation

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The waiting-room sign shown above is now part of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Here, journalist Simeon Booker and Freedom Rider Reginald Green attend the UMW student exhibition in Dodd Foyer in 2011.

A historic sign procured by a UMW museum studies class holds a prominent place on the National Mall.

Since the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture opened there in September, thousands of visitors have walked past a worn wooden sign from an Alabama bus station. One of 3,000 objects on display, it reads “Waiting Room (interstate and white intrastate passengers).”

UMW donated the 1950s-era artifact in honor of the late James Farmer, a UMW distinguished professor and architect of the Freedom Rides that helped to desegregate interstate transportation.

During the university’s 2011 semester-long tribute to Farmer and the 50th anniversary of the Rides, a UMW museum studies class purchased the sign on eBay to include in an exhibit students created.

The class, taught by former instructor Elisabeth Sommer, researched the Freedom Rides, collected old recruiting posters and magazines, and created life-size photo displays for an exhibit that told the story of the Jim Crow era.

Once the exhibit was taken down, the class agreed that the sign should be donated to the African-American museum, then in the planning stages, as a tribute to Farmer.

Sommer attended the donor preview of the museum. “It was unbelievably cool to see the sign and hear the stories people had to tell,” she said. “I’m so gratified that the sign was on display for all to see.”

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