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Ozarks Afro- American Heritage Museum

About 200 people signed the guest book on opening day for the Ozarks Afro-American History Museum. Dozens of people came from as far away as Kansas City and St. Louis for the opening, which included live bluegrass music, a picnic and a street fair like atmosphere in downtown Ash Grove.

The museum is housed in a century-old storefront building that was originally a bank. The main room inside is about the size of an average living room. It's filled with antique furniture and display cases with artifacts that once belonged to black families in northern Greene County. The walls are lined with sepia-toned photographs of proud black men, women and children, mostly taken in Ash Grove.

The museum's collection comes from Father Moses Berry, an orthodox priest who is the museum's founder. Berry grew up in Ash Grove, but spent most of his life in St. Louis before inheriting his grandparents' farm five years ago. Upon moving back to Ash Grove, Berry realized he had also inherited a house full of photographs, quilts, and other antiques that tell the story of rural black life in the Ozarks. That story is now told in the museum.

One of the most provocative display cases in the museum contains heavy iron shackles once worn by slaves. A crowd gathers around Father Berry as he opens the case and tries on a neck iron.

Barbara Roberts drove with her husband from Kansas City for the museum's opening. Roberts paused near a toy horse outside the museum and reflected on what she had seen.

Father Berry says slavery is only part of the story told in the museum. He hopes visitors will find they have a lot in common with black families who have lived in the Ozarks since before the Civil War.

The Ozarks Afro-American History Museum is at 107 West Main Street in downtown Ash Grove. The museum will be opened three days a week, and Father Berry says he'll be there to talk with visitors about the artifacts and local history. Hours are Tuesdays and Fridays, from nine to two, and Saturdays, from ten to one. Admission is free, and donations are accepted.

From Ash Grove, I'm Jenny Fillmer for KSMU News.