One of Pocahontas’ oldest buildings, the Eddie Mae Herron Center, will be celebrating its 100th birthday in 2019. The EMHC Board has launched its annual fundraising campaign with that event in mind. The white frame building, restored and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2002, now serves as a museum and education site where thousands of area students and visitors come annually to see photographs and artifacts and listen to stories of Randolph County’s African American heritage and history. The museum also serves as a site for many community activities and programs.
The EMH Center has long held an annual membership drive, but this year the membership drive has been folded into a major fundraising effort in honor of the century landmark of the building’s 1919 construction, according to Pat Johnson, Chair of the EMH Center Board.
Like most non-profit community organizations, the EMH Center pulls together funding for maintenance and programming from a variety of community sources, depending heavily on its own fundraising events and individual donations, Johnson explained. In addition to ongoing operations costs, the Board has identified areas of special need they hope to have completed in time for next year’s 100th birthday celebration and events. Needs include painting and repairs to the building interior and exterior, repair of a portion of the roof, updating and printing of new visitor information booklets, and funding assistance for a part-time position.
The Eddie Mae Herron Center/Museum, 1708 Archer Street in Pocahontas, had its beginnings ca. 1865 as St. Mary’s African American Episcopal Church at Bland and Schoonover. Also known as St. Mary’s Chapel, the building was torn down and rebuilt at its current location in 1919. St. Mary’s served the African American community as a site of worship initially, then added the function of serving as a school during the 1930s, though classes were held only a few months of the year and the education program lacked clear structure. In 1948, the St. Mary’s church added the function of being an official school by special agreement with Pocahontas Public Schools.
The building eventually came to be known as the “Pocahontas Colored School,” a one-room school for African American students in the first eight grades. Its teacher during all the years of the school’s existence was the building’s namesake, Miss Eddie Mae Herron.
After eighth grade, Pocahontas’ African American students who wanted to continue their schooling were bused to a segregated high school in Newport. In spite of the 1954 Supreme Court ruling, Brown v. Board Education, declaring segregated schools were inherently unequal and therefore not constitutional, segregation in Pocahontas continued until the Civil Rights Legislation forced integration of the schools, beginning with the Fall 1965. No longer needed as a school, the building then served for a time as a BRAD pre-school/daycare facility, and later was used as a Senior Center for quilting, crafts, and other community activities.
An effort to restore the facility and to establish a museum center began in 2000, led by the efforts of Pat Johnson and a group of Board members. Johnson and many of the original Board members continue to serve to this day.
The EMH Center is open Monday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. For more information or to schedule a group tour, call 870 892 4433.