“Hidden in Plain Site Roanoke” documentary highlights Black history once forgotten

Published: Aug. 18, 2023 at 10:41 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - Hidden Histories in Roanoke has launched one of its main history projects - a new documentary.

You may drive by the Berglund Center or even attend events in the building. But you may not know what was once there and a new documentary brings that history to light.

Over 200 people gathered at the Grandin Theater for their chance to see Hidden in Plain Site Roanoke.

“Really telling the full story of what it was like to be Black in Roanoke for basically almost 100 years,” said film Co-Director and Co-Founder Dean Browell.

Browell says it took hours of research. The goal was to take people on an experience.

“We’re looking through everything from city council minutes to stories from different people and really trying to understand what are some of the themes that actually tie a lot of these sites together, and that came very quickly with the Roanoke Story,” explained Browell.

The theme is Urban Renewal – a program of the ‘50s and ‘60s to clear neighborhoods for economic development.

“A painful and dismal past that we’re looking at here in Roanoke. But I will also say that it is not just Roanoke – you name a city; it happened all across the country, right,” said Hidden in Plain Site organizer Trish White-Boyd.

The documentary highlights sites like Dreamland, a recreation center for the Black community during segregation, or Henry Street, where thriving Black businesses made Gainsboro the travel stop for many artists. The film also features the Berglund Center, the Old Lick Cemetery, Henry Street, the Burrell Hospital, and Dreamland... all important sites to the Black community before the Commonwealth Project.

Gainsboro resident Brenda Allen says she’s happy to see her history finally being told. But it’s overwhelming.

“We went through Urban Renewal that destroyed so many of our homes and way of life. And we were a thriving community,” said Allen. “We were like the Black Wall Street.”

Leaders hope the film is the first step to understanding and healing within communities.

“That people will say ‘whoa, now I see why people were hurt and why it’s so painful and why a lot of people still deal with that pain’,” added White-Boyd.

The documentary aims to show people history is hidden in plain sight; you just have to look closely.

“Try to bring about a different way to look at the city that you live in, the city that you love,” said Browell. “So, that you really know the full history.”

The project is planning to launch an interactive website in the upcoming weeks.