Reactions to the “A Community in Conflict” exhibit

By Mike Matejka

Every community has its home-town pride; Bloomington-Normal is proud to claim Steak n’ Shake and MASH TV star McLean Stevenson.  We’ve also had a moment of contention and conflict.  Sometimes these are uplifting stories of human progress. At other times, they cause us to shake our heads and wonder why.

The McLean County Museum of History is quite daring with its latest permanent exhibit, “A Community in Conflict.”  Beginning with how the Kickapoo Indians were treated, the exhibit looks at racial segregation, labor struggles, women’s rights, prohibition, gay rights and other moments when the community tangled. Often these conflicts were reflective of national trends, but each one had its own home-grown apparition. 

In a straight-forward fashion, the exhibit does not judge, but simply lays out the opposing sides, asking the recurring question, “Who has the power?”   Some in power sought to repress others or the powerless found their voice to make social change.  This exhibit is well worth a visit downtown to view and understand our community’s evolution.

To complement this, Not In Our Town and the Museum of History, along with numerous other community partners, including the YWCA and Heartland Community College, are sponsoring a series of free community forums on contemporary issues reflected in our past.  Instead of a “community in conflict,” the theme is “a community in conversation.”

The first is Tuesday, January 28, 6:45 p.m. at the Museum downtown, raising the question, “Who has the power to choose their work?”  It will examine contemporary issues of wage disparity and access to employment.   

On February 27 at Heartland Community College at 4 p.m., “Who has the power to get an equal education?” will examine racially different graduation rates and educational access.  With many women becoming more politically vocal, the March 21 event is at 12 noon at the YWCA, asking “Who has the Power to be politically heard?”

Finally, the series concludes back at the Museum of History on April 28 at 6:45 p.m., asking “Who has the power to define morality?” as a sexual expression has changed.

The Museum of History deserves commendation for not only highlighting local pride and accomplishment but also seriously probing the times our community debated and sometimes repressed some of our neighbors.  This “community in conversation” series is an opportunity for all of us, in our diverse community, to share and listen to alternative viewpoints. I hope to see you there. 


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