Meet Dr. Learotha Williams, Associate Professor of African American and Public History at Tennessee State University, Founder of the North Nashville Heritage Project

by Alex Howard

“The North Nashville Heritage Project taught me that the old lady who fried chicken at the church was just as important as the lawyers who bailed the students who got arrested out of jail,” said Dr. Learotha Williams, referencing the Nashville sit-ins of 1960.

Dr. Williams started the North Nashville Heritage Project in 2010, along with students in his Introduction to Public History course at Tennessee State University. The project seeks to preserve the heritage of North Nashville, a community that has been an epicenter for Black business, culture, and education since the end of the Civil War. The North Nashville Heritage Project started when students asked Dr. Williams questions that he “quite honestly didn’t have an answer to.” His students were interested in the people that lived in the peripheries of North Nashville, beyond its historic Jefferson Street. Dr. Williams realized that “these people had stories that were important” and had not been documented. So Dr. Williams had his students engage in oral histories, encouraging them to “look where people haven’t been looking, ask the questions that haven’t been asked.”

Dr. Williams says the North Nashville Heritage Project “started off as something simple but it has grown into something that was completely unanticipated.” One of these unanticipated results is that “it connected groups that were previously working out there in the wilderness doing their own thing. Now they know about each other. In places where one group is struggling, another may have expertise to share.” One such group is a group of women church historians working to publish and preserve the histories of North Nashville’s Black churches. Dr. Williams says the knowledge and material the church historians have collected is extremely valuable because “the churches were often times the repositories of this community’s history.”

The North Nashville Heritage Project is committed to telling the history of North Nashville through the voices of people who have traditionally been ignored and marginalized. Dr. Williams especially encourages us to “pay attention to Black women in Nashville because we have not done right by them. Not by a long shot.” Intentional community outreach, like to North Nashville’s church historians, is essential to engaging and documenting marginalized voices in Dr. Williams’s work.

This photo was taken from a North Nashville Heritage Project Facebook post on September 25, 2019 highlighting a meeting of the National Association of Colored Women held in Nashville in 1897.


According to Dr. Williams, the most effective method of outreach is cultivating long term, mutually beneficial relationships in the community. This was especially important for him to do as he is not native to Nashville. To start building these relationships, Dr. Williams says it’s all about “getting to know people, figuring out their likes and dislikes, hanging out in the same places as them.” Most importantly, Dr. Williams argues that developing strong relationships requires us to listen to the communities we are engaging – “Listen to what they need and what they want to do. They might have a dream. You can help them pull that off.” If possible, Dr. Williams says it is important to make these relationships a permanent feature of our institutions.

Dr. Williams says it took five years of being in academia for him to start feeling free to do the kind of work he is really passionate about. Dr. Williams is originally from Florida and earned his PhD in African American History from Florida State University. He worked as a Historic Sites Specialist for the State of Florida and served as a professor at Armstrong Atlantic State University in Savannah, Georgia where he started an African American Studies program. When he started in his discipline, Dr. Williams had to advocate for academia to embrace conducting oral histories and working with heritage societies as “real history.” He argues that practicing history in this way is difficult because “you have to learn everything that the ‘traditional’ historians know but you also have to learn to speak to folks who aren’t usually in the audience and more importantly listen to people who have traditionally been ignored.” When Dr. Williams came to Tennessee State University in 2009, he was able to engage at this level of historical practice through the North Nashville Heritage Project which he says “has made me a better historian and a better teacher.”

Fruits in Decay: An exhibit from the Ware Collection of Blaschka Glass Models of Plants

by Vanessa Formato

All these fruits are dying. Wisps of grey mold stretch out from the bottom of a sickly, shriveled strawberry. Plums blush an unnatural shade of teal. A pockmarked peach hangs from a branch, the bark discolored, its leaves curled and scaly. But what makes for a ghastly discovery on an apple picking excursion becomes a work of art in Harvard Museum of Natural History’s Glass Flowers room. This autumn, celebrate the year’s most macabre season with a visit to Fruits in Decay, a special exhibit of botanical blight and beauty.

The exhibition marks the first time in almost twenty years that these unique models will be on show as part of the Ware Collection of Blaschka Glass Models of Plants. The Ware Collection, often simply referred to as the Glass Flowers, is made up of 4,300 blown glass recreations of plant life spanning nearly 800 species, all crafted by renowned glass artisans Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka between 1887 and 1936. The first director of Harvard’s Botanical Museum, Professor George Lincoln Goodale, was inspired to commission these stunning models after observing the Blaschkas’ realistic glass models of marine life that were already a prized part of Harvard’s collections. Goodale saw the potential for similar models to illustrate the beauty and complexity of plant life for both his students and the curious public. At the time, botanists-in-training primarily relied on delicately preserved plant specimens and papier-mâché scientific models.

With the help of funding from Mary Lee and Eizabeth C. Ware, Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka created the highly realistic flowers in their Dresden, Germany, workshop, through masterful heat shaping and glass blowing techniques. In order to achieve the plants’ vivid hues, the Blaschkas used a combination of colored glass and cold painting. This painstaking process certainly paid off: to this day, the Glass Flowers are among the museum’s most unique and treasured collections, and a consistent crowd-pleaser. During my time with Fruits in Decay, the gallery was never empty, and visitors eagerly engaged with docents ready to explain the history and construction of the flowers. “Are they really glass?” is a frequent question you overhear. The models are part teaching tool, part optical illusion.

The mold-ravaged berries and blighted pears of Fruits in Decay were all created by Rudolf Blaschka toward the end of his life, between 1924 and 1932, as part of a commission by then-Director of the Botanical Museum Oakes Ames. Concerned about the aging glass artist’s ability to pull off the ambitious project, Ames sent Mary Lee Ware to his Dresden studio to observe Blaschka’s creative process. Ware captured this experience, which she described as “breathless to watch,” in a letter to Ames, now excerpted and displayed on panels alongside the fruits themselves. Reading Ware’s firsthand account of the studio and Rudolf’s meticulous work is transporting, and it will surely enrich visitors’ understanding of the models as an artistic accomplishment.

Of course, the fruits encourage visitors not only to find the beauty in unexpected places but to learn more about the depth of our connection to the natural world. They model a variety of botanical ailments and injuries, from mold to fire blight, soft rot to frost damage, that can have a profound effect on daily life, an idea that feels especially poignant in a time when the effects of climate change and the importance of sustainability are increasingly urgent. In a video about the special exhibit, Donald H. Pfister, curator of the Farlow Library and Herbarium of Cryptogamic Botany and Asa Gray Professor of Systematic Botany, notes that one of the most “topical and important” lessons visitors can take from the collection is a newfound appreciation of “food security and food sources.”

“It’s another way to reach out and reach the public,” says Pfister, “and because of its beauty, because of the rarity of these models, and because of the stories that we can tell around the apples and their diseases, we think that the public will leave with a broader appreciation of both museums and of biology of plants.”

When you’ve finished taking in these fuzzy fruits, be sure to venture further into the museum, where you can see the Blaschka models of invertebrate animals on display.

For more information about Fruits in Decay and the Glass Flowers, visit:


Historic Congressional Cemetery has Gone to the Dogs: How Dog Owners Saved a Historic Cemetery

by Mattie Clear

Congressional Cemetery sign
Congressional Cemetery

The Historic Congressional Cemetery has gone to the dogs, in all the best ways. Before the wonders of the Washingtonians and their ingenuity can be appreciated, one must know the story of this small, but important cemetery. From its formation in the early 1800s, it was immediately associated with the US Congress; it predates Arlington National Cemetery by 50 years. This close tie is evident through the plots purchased by Congress for Congressional Representatives who died while serving in Washington.[1] Outside of this early history, Congressional Cemetery is known for its interment of a larger number of LGBTQIA+ identifying deceased and is one of the few (if not only) cemeteries in the country with an LGBTQIA+ section, which was  established in 1988.[2]

While the cemetery enjoyed great prominence and prestige through the 19th and early 20th centuries, the cemetery was largely forgotten in the late 20th century. This fading from collective consciousness prompted its addition to the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s list of the most endangered historic sites in 1997. Following Congressional Cemetery’s addition to the list of the most endangered historic sites, community members took it into their own hands to save their neighborhood cemetery through self-taxation.[3] As one of the only green spaces in the area, with the added bonus of being fully enclosed, it is no surprise that individuals enjoyed walking their dogs there. It was this taxation that grew into the K-9 Corps that currently provides about one-fourth of the operating costs of the cemetery (this is approximately the cost of maintaining the grounds).[4]

The K-9 Corps is composed of a group of Washington locals who wish to use the cemetery as a place to walk their dogs. This program informally began in the 1990s and has grown to include 770 dogs and more than 400 people on a waitlist to become members. Memberships are purchased yearly beginning March 1 for $235 with a $50 fee per dog and a maximum of three dogs per membership. This membership also includes a mandatory volunteer commitment of eight hours per year.[5] In March of 2018, I had the pleasure of speaking to then Program Director, Lauren Maloy, who further elaborated on the information provided on the website. She explained that members must go through an orientation session and, upon completion, receive tags for their dogs that are checked by an individual at the gate every time they enter the cemetery. Dogs are allowed in the cemetery any time except during funerals, special events, and Saturdays from 11AM-3PM. The three canine-free hours each Saturday allow visitors who may not feel comfortable around dogs to visit the cemetery. When I spoke with Maloy, the waitlist for joining the K-9 Corps was over 200 individuals, thus indicating the success of such an out of the ordinary fundraising and outreach efforts.

Members are not the only ones who can enjoy the cemetery, Non-members of the K-9 Corps may bring their dogs to the cemetery, for a fee of a $10 day pass. In addition to this fee, the non-member owners are required to read and sign a waiver that is to be carried with them while in the cemetery.[6] The one exception to this rule is Congressional Cemetery’s “Day of the Dog” Celebration. This celebration occurs annually in May and is the one day that the cemetery is open to all dogs for free. “Day of the Dog” typically includes raffles, pet-related vendors as well as local food and brewery options. While not explicitly related to the K-9 Corps, “Day of the Dog” is a way for the cemetery to pay homage to the community that helped save it.[7]

Today, due in large part to the continued support of these dog walkers, Congressional Cemetery is flourishing as an active cemetery and tourist destination.  Following a trend of novelty, Congressional Cemetery’s program is rather out of the ordinary for similar cemeteries and includes soul strolls in October where the center chapel is transformed into a bar,  Yoga Mortis, Tombs and Tomes book club, Cinematery, and many more. For more information about this cemetery and all that it has to offer, please visit their website at for the most up to date information. For specific information regarding the K-9 Corps please visit,






“Cemetery Dogs: Serving the Historic Congressional Cemetery.” Historic Congressional Cemetery, 2019.

“Day of the Dog at Congressional Cemetery.” Historic Congressional Cemetery, 2019.

“Dog Walking.” Historic Congressional Cemetery, 2019.

“Historic Congressional Cemetery – History.” Historic Congressional Cemetery, August 14, 2019.

“K9 Corps Waitlist: Frequently Asked Questions.” Historic Congressional Cemetery, 2019.

“Walking Tour: LGBT Community.” Historic Congressional Cemetery, 2019.



[1] “Historic Congressional Cemetery – History,” Historic Congressional Cemetery,

[2] “Walking Tour: LGBT Community,” Historic Congressional Cemetery,

[3]  “Historic Congressional Cemetery – History,” Historic Congressional Cemetery,

[4] “Dog Walking,” Historic Congressional Cemetery,

[5] “Cemetery Dogs: Serving the Historic Congressional Cemetery,” Historic Congressional Cemetery,

[6] “K9 Corps Waitlist: Frequently Asked Questions,” Historic Congressional Cemetery,

[7] “Day of the Dog at Congressional Cemetery,” Historic Congressional Cemetery,

The Rainbow Arcade at Schwules Museum

Banner from Rainbow Arcade Kickstarter
Banner from Rainbow Arcade Kickstarter

by Jonathan Fryerwood

The RAINBOW ARCADE exhibition hosted at the Schwules Museum in Berlin presented itself as the first major exhibition of queer content in video games. The event ran from December 2018 to May of this year. The project was overseen by the museum and the LGBTQ Video Game Archive, whose mission involves documenting the history of the LGBTQ community in video games.

Entrance to Rainbow Arcade, originally published at:

Spanning from the 1980’s to the present, the exhibit featured both well known mainstream titles that involve queer content, and independent works by queer creators. Items on display included playable games, preserved documentations of online game communities, concept art, and even modifications and “hacks” by queer fans that seek to adjust or add relevant content to existing games. The official press release for the exhibit states that it “[took] stock of contemporary pop cultural questions of representation, stereotypical and discriminatory narratives in entertainment media, and our cultural memory.” To this end it highlighted the often turbulent history of queer themes in prominant games. Harmful stereotypes, underwhelming romantic narratives compared to straight counterparts, and disingenuous representation have been issues in the game industry since the beginning, and the curators of RAINBOW ARCADE aimed to show how things have changed and how they have not over the years. Conversely, underground and “indie” spaces have a long history of of queer art and community that has hardly been documented. The digital history of these communities, often hosted on abandoned forums and outdated operating systems, is ephemeral and much of it has already been lost to time. By preserving and highlighting these materials, RAINBOW ARCADE provides a valuable view into a small but vital part of the twentieth century pop culture zeitgeist.

The project was realized in part by a Kickstarter campaign in 2018. The Kickstarter allowed the RAINBOW ARCADE team to produce a catalog of the exhibit and its featured games, which boasts the claim of being the first comprehensive guide to the queer history of video games. Though initially only given to Kickstarter backers, the book is now available for purchase. The success of this campaign allowed for not only the exhibit and catalog themselves, but an extensive supplemental program as well.

Rainbow Arcade exhibit, originally published at:

The RAINBOW ARCADE exhibition is the result of a collaboration between the Schwules Museum, Temple University, and the LGBTQ Video Game Archive, and it was funded by the Berlin Senate Department for Culture and Europe. It was an official part of gamesweekberlin, an industry-wide networking event hosted by Berlin-based tech company Booster Space.

The LGBTQ Video Game Archive is a grassroots organization that, by its own admission, is not a “true” archive. Though it has not yet collected enough primary materials to consider itself a full archive, it does maintain a database of information spanning over 1000 LGBTQ and queerly read games, aimed to be a resource for researchers. The success of RAINBOW ARCADE has afforded the organization greater visibility and attention, which will hopefully lead to similar projects in the future and allow for the collection of more objects.