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San Diego History Center's new Black heritage exhibit

The exhibit uses crowdsourcing to nominate local Black heroes and add to its timeline of Black History in San Diego and the 19th century's most photographed person.

SAN DIEGO — A new exhibit in San Diego is paying tribute to the county's rich Black history. The San Diego History Center's new interactive experience allows people to nominate local heroes from all eras.

The new exhibit is called Celebrate San Diego: Black History and Heritage.

The San Diego History Center has exhibited San Diego’s Jewish community and LGBTQ+ but now it’s featuring San Diego’s rich Black history.

“This exhibition is a long time coming,” said Shelby Gordon, San Diego History Center’s Marketing Manager.

She also was born and raised in San Diego and went to Lemon Grove schools which you'll find on the timeline they created in 1931 was the U.S.’s first successful school desegregation case.

“Black San Diego history is not something I was taught. Black San Diego history is something I've lived,” said Gordon.

What makes this exhibit so different is that it is crowdsourced, meaning you can add milestones or events to the timeline and nominate San Diego's local Black heroes from all eras and backgrounds including, military, sports, education and medicine among many of the professions featured in the exhibit.

“We have a set of names that we think about in the Black community but this exhibition really gave everybody an opportunity to nominate a person who impacted them and it may not be a name that we recognize but we need to,” said Gordon.

Among the artifacts such as the Bethel AME’s church's 100th-anniversary program is the companion exhibit of Nathan Harrison.

“I would describe him as curmudgeon rockstar,” said Gordon. “He understood his appeal. He is a Black man living on Palomar Mountain at the turn of the century.”

The History Center said Harrison was one of the most photographed 19th-century San Diegans.

“He gave folks a different picture and different illustration of a Black person and how they could live and thrive,” said Gordon.

Inside the replica home that he originally built exactly as when he was enslaved are artifacts from SDSU’s Seth Mallios, Ph.D., archeological digs in the area where Harrison lived.

“He was able to rise above that and still in his DNA it was deep still in his body and spirit and he was able to build a life on the other side of being enslaved and found freedom and comraderies on Palomar Mountain,” said Gordon.

There is not an end date for the exhibit and admission is free but donations are encouraged.

Gordon hopes whether you experience it in person or online that you understand the deep pride of Black San Diegans. 

“The pride that we have with this opportunity to participate in this activity and ensuring that our history is comprehensive, multi-dimensional, transparent and community-sourced,” said Gordon.

The San Diego History Center is open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 11 am to 4 pm you can also experience it virtually on the San Diego History Center's website. 

WATCH RELATED: Martin Luther King Jr. interviewed in San Diego about Black voter suppression, civil rights in 1962

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