About the Ozarks Afro-American Heritage Museum
The Berry Family
The Berry family has been in Ash Grove Missouri since the 1870s, when William Berry and Caroline Boone Berry built their home on a plot of land right outside of town. The family grew and flourished in the town, making connections through marriage and friendship with other local African American families, including the Carlocks, Murrays, Yokums and others.
What is remarkable about the Berry family, however, is the amount of history they kept and passed down, both orally and physically. More than a century's worth of photographs, clothing, mementos, furniture and even slave chains were kept by members of the family and passed down with each generation.
Fr. Moses Berry
Fr. Moses Berry, the most recent holder of the family's history, inherited both the Berry homestead and the bulk of his family's artifacts from his uncle, Lawrence Berry, in 1999. At the time, Fr. Moses Berry was living in St. Louis, MO, serving as priest at Christ the Good Shepherd Eastern Orthodox Church, with his wife Magdalena and two children. Realizing that the stewardship of such an historic legacy required hands-on attention, Berry moved his family to Ash Grove, the town where he grew up, and onto the Berry farm, the place where he spent much of his childhood.
In 2003, Berry opened the Ozarks Afro-American Heritage Museum (OAAHM) on the town's main street. The museum was a labor of love, curated and run entirely by Berry. Funding came and went periodically from local individuals and institutions but was rarely steady. Despite the precarious financial status, the OAAHM was a local success, and helped establish Berry as a local oral historian of note. The received history of African Americans in the Ozarks, passed down through the years in the Berry family, served to illustrate a widely unknown history, making the museum a must-stop attraction for tourists as well as Ozarks educational institutions of all levels.
Ten years after the museum's founding, in 2013, the decison was made to transition from a physical space to a digital museum. Issues including funding, preservation concerns, and the desire to make the information more widely available all contributed to this decision. Also, in the time since the museum's founding, Fr. Berry has become incapable of giving the amount of attention to the museum he felt necessary.
Following a digitization project initiated and completed by Berry's daughter, Dorothy, a current Masters candidate in both the School of Information Science and in the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology at Indiana University, Bloomington, the museum on Main Street has been transitioned to the museum online.
The transition is still in process, and there are several elements that still need to be created and updated. The new Ozarks Afro-American Heritage Museum, the OAAHM-Online, is set to serve a wider audience and take the history of African Americans in the Ozarks from a family matter to one that can be shared with the whole world.