- The Only One exhibit runs through the rest of the year at both the Johnson County Historical Society and African American Museum of Iowa.
The black-and-white photograph shows six teenage girls, dressed in track suits, holding tennis rackets. Five of the girls are white. One is African-American. That isn’t the only difference, though. Only one of the girls wears glasses. Only one girl has blond hair. “All of us have been ‘the only one’ at one time or another,” says Michelle Poe, the director of education at the African American Museum of Iowa. That is the focus of The Only One exhibits at the African American Museum of Iowa in Cedar Rapids and the Johnson County Historical Society in Coralville. The two-part exhibit, which opened at both museums in January and continues through December, showcases photographs of Iowa’s African-American population. In many of the images, dated from the late 1800s to present day, there is only one person of color in the picture. The pictures show what it was, and in some cases still is, like to be a minority in Iowa. “I’m still carrying that baggage around that kids today don’t have. They need to know (about), but not experience,” the discrimination, says African American Museum of Iowa Executive Director Tom Moore, who grew up in Ohio. It was a challenge for the museums to design exhibits that enhanced but did not duplicate each other. The Only One exhibit took about two years to plan, with the last year focused on gathering images and artifacts to display. Both exhibits also feature oral histories from African-Americans in the area, all who share their experiences being “the only one.” “The oral histories are effective because the details are exclusive,” Poe says. “You can see what they feel as they tell the story, how their voices change.”