A documentary film about the history of Montgomery Hall Park during the Jim Crow era debuted Saturday afternoon in Staunton. Thelma Newman, a Staunton resident, says it gave people a chance to look at the "Old South" in Staunton the way it really was.
"We always could come here, but I knew too that we couldn't go to Gypsy Hill. We just knew we couldn't do it," says former City Councilwoman Rita Wilson, speaking about Montgomery Hill Park.
She remembers the Jim Crow era. The parking lots would be lined with buses from Charlottesville, Roanoke, Lynchburg, and many other places and they wouldn't have to deal with segregation.
Newman grew up in Augusta County and also participated in the documentary. She says her favorite memory was "taking the one day out of the summer to actually go somewhere and have fun and be with your friends."
These women, along with thousands of other African Americans, once used different entrances to theaters, if they were even allowed in, went to different churches and learned in different schools.
Newman says, "They have no concept of how it felt to see a sign outside saying colored only or white only, and so I'm hoping that it will bridge the gap generationally for generations to come."
Wilson says the celebration Saturday supporting the park's existence marks a sign of the times.
She says, "It was good to see the history, but it's good to know that here I am, couldn't even go to Gypsy Hill Park, and I just finished up 16 years of being on Staunton City Council. So things have changed."
The film is part of the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library's Montgomery Hall Park Oral History Project. The film was made possible through a grant from the History Channel. If you would like a copy of the documentary, please contact the Presidential Library.