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August 23, 2007
Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Virginia Museum of Natural History and the Fayette Area Historical Initiative have teamed up for an archaeological dig in an effort to learn more about the social lives of African Americans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the museum said Wednesday in a news release.

The dig is taking place at the site of a planned civic center at the corner of Fayette and Market streets, with the permission of the city of Martinsville, the release said.

"Archaeology is about filling in the gaps in history," Dr. Elizabeth Moore, curator of archaeology at VMNH, stated in the release. "This is especially important in minority communities, where important information is often left out of the history books."

Moore said she hopes to find artifacts from a dance hall, hospital and pharmacy that once stood on the site. Initial findings include broken glass, coal and factory debris.

The Fayette area was once the center of the black community in Martinsville. Major events took place from the 1930s through the 1960s, such as the June German Ball. Big name stars, such as James Brown and Tina Turner, also performed in the area.

"The partnership between FAHI and VMNH on the archaeological dig at the corner of Fayette and Market streets will bring a spark of excitement and mystery into the community," Linda Dillard, founder and program coordinator at FAHI, said in the release. "This spark will create more interest in people, especially those that shopped, worked, worshiped, received medical care and partied (June German Ball) on Fayette Street. I also feel it will stimulate interest in individuals to participate with the dig, tell their stories, share artifacts and photos."

The dig began Aug. 17 and is scheduled to go on until December. Volunteers are needed for a variety of jobs, including digging, sifting debris and general assistance, the release said. There is something for people with all levels of mobility, from digging to sitting in a chair screening dirt.

In addition, the public can visit either the dig site or the FAHI Museum and bring historical photos to be scanned. FAHI Museum officials also will be recording oral histories. Visitors who wish to have a oral history recorded can visit either the dig site or the FAHI Museum. For more information about the dig schedule and how to get involved, contact Janet Roetken at 634-4171 or