Midtown Raleigh News

Art exhibit highlights prominent black family's life in Raleigh

Ernest Dollar, director of the City of Raleigh Museum, puts the finishing touches on “A Family Story: Photographs from the Pope House,” an exhibit in honor of Black History Month.
Ernest Dollar, director of the City of Raleigh Museum, puts the finishing touches on “A Family Story: Photographs from the Pope House,” an exhibit in honor of Black History Month. snagem@newsobserver.com

The piano still sits in a front room, probably where the Pope family gathered and entertained guests.

Manassa Pope’s medical bag remains in the home, along with syringes and other supplies he used to treat patients.

There are old books, jewelry and photographs that span a century. Lots and lots of photographs.

The City of Raleigh Museum isexhibiting some of the photos found at the historic Pope house in honor of Black History Month. The exhibit is on view through Feb. 28.

The exhibit is a snapshot into the life of Manassa Pope and his family. Pope, born in eastern North Carolina in 1858, was the son of a free black man.

The societal limits placed on African-Americans after the Civil War didn’t seem to faze Pope. He attended Leonard Medical School at Shaw University, helped start a drug company in Charlotte, served in the Spanish-American War and ran for mayor of Raleigh.

Pope was the first black man to run for mayor of a southern city, said Ernest Dollar, director of the City of Raleigh Museum.

“It just shows what a positive influence Dr. Pope had in the community and the kind of gusto he had,” Dollar said.

The city bought the Pope house on South Wilmington Street in 2011 and opened it up for weekly tours. At the time, a private foundation that owned the house was approaching foreclosure.

Now, Dollar hopes the exhibit at the City of Raleigh Museum on Fayetteville Street will pique the public’s interest in visiting the two-story brick house, which was built in 1901 and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

About 1,000 people, mostly school groups, visit the house each year, Dollar said.

The house is tucked on a small lot surrounded by downtown Raleigh’s expanding boom. A high-rise building is under construction across the street.

“Trying to get people to find the Pope house is hard,” Dollar said.

Hannah Shields, curator for the city’s Historic Resources & Museum Program, has spent months sorting through artifacts in the house. She has found everything from clothing to hair-styling tools.

Pope’s wife, Delia, called herself a “scientific hair dresser” on a business card found in the home.

“It’s really a treasure box,” Shields said of the house.

Pope had two daughters, Ruth and Evelyn, who both earned master’s degrees and lived at the homestead until their deaths. Evelyn died in 1995 and Ruth died five years later.

Many of the photos discovered are of Pope’s daughters, Dollar said. A portrait of them later in life is part of the exhibit, along with childhood photos.

Several photographs of unidentified soldiers in the Spanish-American War are also part of the collection.

Dollar hopes some longtime Raleigh residents can help the museum identify some unidentified portraits.

Pope died in 1934, having left his mark as a pioneering black doctor and entrepreneur who was devoted to his community.

Dollar is still trying to envision a future for the Pope house. He wants it to be meaningful.

“The African-American experience in Raleigh has never really been told,” Dollar said.

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