Meet John and Leslie Garner
When the Minnesota Historical Society put out a call for volunteers for its Our
Gathering Places: African Americans in Minnesota exhibit, John and Leslie Garner
of St. Paul were quick to help.
Active in social and civic clubs and as
volunteers with other organizations, the Garners weren't shy about asking their
friends and acquaintances to spread the word.
"We made lists of friends, clubs, old-timers, various groups," said Leslie, a retired elementary school teacher.
"We did the telephoning, and encouraged people to come to some of the meetings.
People were very excited because it was the first time the History Center had
focused so heavily upon the history of African Americans in the state-- a whole
exhibit dedicated to our day-to-day life, how we passed on housing, school or job
information through community networks."
The exhibit features two settings that
evoke community life-- a barber shop and a beauty salon-- and has engaged young and
old African Americans as well as others. "The exhibit has been able to help
people understand African American culture when it came to the places they
gathered or the social and community aspects," says John, a retired 3M executive,
who along with Leslie continues to volunteer in the gallery as an interpreter.
"People from out of town, groups from up north, Native Americans and others spend
a long time looking at the exhibit," says Leslie. "Some visitors have said their
mother or uncle used to live on Rondo Avenue, or their grandfather went to
Central High, and they want to find out more about it. They are going back into
their own lives."
One young woman visited the exhibit, and told John that her
grandfather had lived in St. Paul for some time. John asked the young woman her
grandfather's name, and helped her to find him in one of the historic photos in
the exhibit. "She was very excited," said John. "People can really identify with
The Garners were asked to serve on the exhibit team's "Front Four"
by guest curator David Taylor, who is dean of the General College at the University
of Minnesota. Along with Dorothea Burns and Margie Tendle, the Garners advised
the team on the exhibit's early development, assisted with prototype testing, and
helped locate more than 30 volunteers to work in the gallery or for events
associated with the exhibit.
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