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Grand Rapids Public Museum finds rare slides on Tuskegee, hosting exhibit on discovery

Museum staff made the rare discovery as they were digitizing their slide collection.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The Grand Rapids Public Museum is showcasing recently discovered slides of Tuskegee during Black History Month this February.

Beginning Feb. 1, the photos will be highlighted in an exhibit called 'Booker T. Washington Visits Grand Rapids.'

The Public Museum discovered 69 black and white photographic magic lantern slides depicting the Tuskegee Institute in March 2021.  

The Tuskegee Institute, now called Tuskegee University, is a historically Black university in Tuskegee, Alabama. Tuskegee is known as the home of the Tuskegee Airmen in World War II, scientist George Washington Carver and its first president and founder, Booker T. Washington.

Museum staff made the discovery as they were digitizing the magic lantern slide collection. Thanks to a local historian who has written about Washington's visit to Grand Rapids, Dr. Randal Maurice Jelks, they were able to confirm the slides are early images of Tuskegee. 

The slides can be seen in the 'Streets of Old Grand Rapids' part of the Museum alongside period photography equipment. 

“Sharing these images and slides with the public is exciting,” said Alex Forist, Chief Curator for the GRPM. 

“This is what museums are all about, preserving the physical pieces of the past so that we can learn from and be inspired by them in new contexts today, and into the future.” 

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