Oak Ridge African American History has been catalogued in the library of the unknown, but on March 2020 it was unveiled at the American Museum of Science and Energy as “Secret Growth.”
Secret Growth tells the story of how, from the difficult beginnings, the story of African Americans in Oak Ridge became the story of scientific and cultural accomplishment. Photographs, artifacts, and narratives were displayed throughout the exhibit.
Thanks specifically to contributors Julie Fletcher, Deborah Long, William Capshaw, Tanya Osborne, Cynthia Manley, Willie Golden, Dorothy Steele, Lila Smith, Archie Lee, Maxine Officer, Lady Stewart, Martin McBride, Katatra Vasquez, Scarboro Memorabilia Wall, the National Park Service, Matt Mullins and the staff of the American Museum of Science and Energy, AMSE Foundation, oral histories from the Oak Ridge Public Library, Department of Energy, Weaver Consulting, and Oak Ridge citizens.
Unfortunately, COVID 19 interfered with the March-May show. The exhibit provided a historical account from the 1940s to date celebrating the arts, civil rights, education, military, politics, sports, and science. Information on housing, desegregation, as well as STEM and future growth were also included. The highlight of the exhibit was the recognition of those 85 African American students in 1955 who fearlessly under the directions of DOE met the challenges of public school desegregation, setting an example for the nation. The courageous parents and their teachers in the Scarboro community were also recognized as true American pioneers. Some information on the creation of the Scarboro neighborhood, created after WWII by the federal government to house its Manhattan Project African American workforce was highlighted.
The exhibit, although now dismantled, is seeking new venues where the local and national communities can see it.
America is evolving, and the Secret Growth exhibit explored and unveiled the historical accounts of Oak Ridge African Americans that have left a broad foundation of strength, triumph, and growth to the Secret City.
It is the coordinators’ hope that this exhibit can be incorporated in the Oak Ridge Schools’ curriculum as well as in a traveling exhibit for the nation. African American history is American history, and affords us an opportunity to experience people’s humanity.