Christy Coleman headlines 'American Black Journal' celebration

Michael H. Hodges
Detroit News Fine Arts Writer
Christy Coleman will keynote the 50th-anniversary celebration for Detroit Public TV's "American Black Journal" Feb. 21.

The 50th-anniversary celebration Thursday for Detroit Public TV's "American Black Journal" will be headlined by Christy Coleman, CEO of Richmond's American Civil War Museum.

Coleman, who was president and CEO of Detroit's Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History from 1999-2005, will speak with ABJ host Stephen Henderson before a live audience at Detroit's Garden Theatre. The event is sold out. 

WTVS-TV will air an hour-long special on the event Mar. 6 at 7:30 p.m.

"I'm delighted ABJ asked me to do this," Coleman said. "I love the show." She regrets she doesn't get to catch it much these days, however, given that it runs on Richmond TV in the wee hours of the morning.

But she has great memories. 

"Not to be flippant," she said, "but ABJ was kind of like having Jet Magazine on TV. It let you know what was going on in the city and gave it a national scope. And they did wonderful interviews so you could really get into an issue.

"I love that they don't just deal with personalities," she added, "but actually have a journalist digging into things." 

Coleman, whom Time Magazine named one of its "31 People Changing the South" last August, turned some heads when she arrived at the Civil War museum in 2008. 

"Mostly there was curiosity and amusement," she said Tuesday, "and I used that to my advantage. The Confederate narrative dominated Richmond and this part of the country for so long, so the fact that I was here was a little confusing: 'Wait - didn't she run the Wright?'"

Some members of what Coleman likes to call "the Confederati" were highly dismayed, she concedes. But a year or two later, she says, it became pretty clear what she wanted to do, and most people have come around. 

"I wanted to get the narrative and the history right," Coleman said. "Because we can't get right with each other if we keep lying about the past. Some call that revisionism," she added, "but it's not. New generations ask new questions."

Today the museum's website notes its mission is to be "the preeminent center for the exploration of the American Civil War and its legacies from multiple perspectives: Union and Confederate, enslaved and free African Americans, soldiers and civilians."

As for the Wright, she called it "an absolute must-see when you come to Detroit -- to learn about the city and African-American culture, and its impact on the national discourse. I think it's an extraordinary place." 

Coleman, who left the Wright when she was pregnant with her second child, fell in love with Detroit during her nine years here. Her only complaint was the winter weather. 

"It was a beautiful time in Detroit," she said. "But my first winter there I thought I was going to die. I wondered, 'What have I done?' But I just loved the place."

Place has a way of snagging Coleman's affections. 

"To be honest," she said, "when I came to Richmond, I thought I'd be here five years. But my husband and I truly fell in love with it. And," Coleman added, presumably with a smile, "the climate is temperate."

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