Hidden in Plain Site documentary highlights Black history in Roanoke

Published: May. 21, 2023 at 7:26 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - Hidden in Plain Site Roanoke launched one of its main history projects Sunday. Hidden in Plain Site Roanoke leaders are making sure Black history in Roanoke is always remembered.

A history once hidden away and forgotten is now brought to light in a new documentary. The film was spearheaded by Dean Browell, Dontrese Brown, and David Waltenbaugh.

“Really the only people who know this history are the people who experienced it, unfortunately,” said Hidden in Plain Site’s coordinator, Trish White-Boyd.

Hidden in Plain Site is a project highlighting Black history in Roanoke. White-Boyd says the initiative began in Richmond. A group was inspired to bring the project to the Star City and in less than a year, they raised enough money to begin.

“By November of last year, we had the money,” added White-Boyd. “We had raised $184,000. Our goal was $160,000.”

The money is funding a documentary and a statue dedicated to Henrietta Lacks, a Roanoke native whose immortal cells were used without permission for medical research. Her story is one of many being told.

“In the documentary, we’re going to highlight the Burrell Hospital, Henrietta Lacks, the Berglund Center, the Old Lick cemetery, Henry Street, and Dreamland,” explained White-Boyd.

All are important sites to the thriving Black community in Roanoke before urban renewal took place. Urban renewal was a program of the ‘50s and ‘60s to clear neighborhoods for economic development.

“I always tell people, please, know it did not just occur in Roanoke,” said White-Boyd. “You name a city, urban renewal or gentrification occurred.”

A 15-minute documentary showing that history is hidden in plain sight, waiting to be told – we just have to look for it.

“It was a painful history, but we want to acknowledge that it happened, (and) share the stories,” added White-Boyd. “So, people can start the process of understanding and healing.”

The project launched to a sold-out crowd at the Dumas Center Sunday.

“People can talk about it in-depth and have conversations about it and further the conversation,” said White-Boyd.

If you want to see the documentary, there are two more screening opportunities in August and September.

Grandin Theatre – August 16

Jefferson Center – September 28

White-Boyd shared the bronze statue planned for Henrietta Lacks will be unveiled October 4 - which Governor Youngkin has declared Henrietta Lacks Day.