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Abilene's African-American Cultural Center Open For Juneteenth

(Joy Bonala/KACU) Women browse through photographs of Taylor County African-American Service members.
(Joy Bonala/KACU) Women browse through photographs of Taylor County African-American Service members.

When Abilene native Andrew Penns became involved in the Taylor County Historical Commission, he discovered that much of the African-American history of this city wasn’t being recognized.

“I would see markers being placed, see history being talked about and very little centered around the black community and African Americans who contributed to history,” Penns said.

Since then he’s spent his life researching, compiling and sharing stories about African-Americans from Abilene. His collection of photographs and artifacts are housed inside The Curtis House, formerly the home of the family that owned Curtis-Starks Funeral Home. The cultural center is located on Washington Street in the Carver neighborhood.

“This is the actual home they lived in,” Penns said. “They were the longest black business that operated in Abilene and served the black community.”

Photographs of the Curtis Family are on display in the first room, along with other professionals including doctors and teachers. Artifacts and newspaper clippings tell stories of local African-Americans who broke the barrier of segregation to become successful. Several large panels cover the walls, moving through a timeline of history.

“Those panels tell a story through years beginning with the actual slave trade, ending with desegregation in Abilene into the integration of the Abilene Independent School District,” Penns said.

The next room you enter is the military room filled with portraits of Taylor County African-American Service members. Veterans from WWII, Vietnam and Korea, all from Abilene. Upstairs is a sports room honoring Robert E. Brewster, a teacher and coach at Woodson Elementary School.

The restored home has several empty bedrooms with wide windows shedding light on hard-wood floors. Penns is excited to add more displays in the empty rooms. He said he’s very proud to look back at how the museum has come together.

“I just pray that at the end of my life, that someone will continue to take the torch and carry it on even further than what I have,” Penns said.