Ethnic Heritage Museum honors early black religious leaders

Online Staff Report

Each year for Black History Month, the African-American Gallery of the Ethnic Heritage Museum showcases a specific aspect of African-American life in Rockford. This year, from 2 to 4 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 9, the African-American Gallery will unveil its newest exhibit honoring some of Rockford’s early black religious leaders — Eldridge Gilbert, Robert Hanserd, George Hines, George Holts, Clayborn Salters and Joseph Turner. Although these men are no longer with us, the museum will celebrate their dedication and the contributions they made to life in Rockford.

The exhibit will feature Rockford’s earliest black churches and the work they have done over the years. The exhibit will include Rockford’s first black church, Allen Chapel A.M.E., which started in 1891 under the leadership of Peter Blakely. And Rockford’s second black church, Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church, was organized in 1917, which later changed its name in 1947 to Pilgrim Baptist Church.

Also included in the exhibit is the history of Bethel Baptist Church, Providence Missionary Baptist Church, Miles Memorial CME Church, St. Paul Church of God in Christ and New Zion Missionary Baptist Church.

To kick off this exhibit, the African-American Gallery is hosting a Gospel Music Celebration at the museum starting at 2:30 p.m., Feb. 9. Hear this live musical celebration, which will feature the Rev. Karen King, Odessa Barmore a.k.a. “Momma G” and the “Praise Team” from Providence Baptist Church. In addition, guest exhibitors for the day Maya Simmons and Carolyn Williams will be on hand to showcase their inspirational artwork.

Maya F. Simmons resides in Rockford and teaches art at King Elementary School. Simmons’ finished artworks span through jewelry, abstract artwork, fashion and graphic design, and drawing. She is most passionate about creating realistic portraiture using graphite and oil paints. She focuses on painting images that are detailed and relatable to all people and cultures.

Carolyn K. Williams grew up in Rockford and started painting in 2002 during a sick leave from work, and has been painting and creating greeting cards ever since. She retired from Hamilton Sundstrand in 2008 after 31 years of service. She is a Christian who enjoys sharing the messages of good news and encouragement through the expressions of art.

The Ethnic Heritage Museum is unique in its blend of ethnic groups: African-American, Italian, Irish, Lithuanian, Polish and Hispanic. A visit to each of these galleries will enlighten visitors of their cultural history and their contributions to life in Rockford. The exhibits in each of these galleries are great for families.

The Ethnic Heritage Museum at 1129 S. Main St., is open every Sunday from 2 to 4 p.m. Admission is $3 for students, $5 for adults, $10 for families and free to museum members. Visit or e-mail for more details.

Group tours can be arranged by contacting the museum at (815) 962-7402 or e-mailing The museum is handicap accessible.

Posted Feb. 5, 2014

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