Living legends populate Alexandria’s Black History Museum

When people think of Alexandria’s leading citizens, certain names always come up: Founding Father George Washington, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, labor leader John Lewis, former president Gerald Ford, and sometimes rock-and-roll legends Jim Morrison and Mama Cass.

But there are many others who made contributions over the city’s 264-year history without achieving national or international fame. Those are the people identified and honored by Living Legends of Alexandria, a photo-documentary project now in its seventh year.

“What I like about this project is it reaches into business people, professionals, artists, activists. It’s everyone,” said Nina Tisara, the Alexandria photographer who started the nonprofit organization in 2006. With photographer Steven Halperson, Tisara has shot portraits of each of the 273 people awarded the honor thus far.

While other such projects are often fundraisers, Tisara has made a point to keep the focus on the men and women who have contributed to the betterment of the community. They are nominated by the public, and the Living Legends board of directors winnows the list down to a dozen each year.

Twelve of the honorees are African American, and their portraits are now on display at the Alexandria Black History Museum. The black-and-white, square-format photographs evoke a broad swath of this history-conscious city’s civic life.


One subject of “Living Legends” is Lynnwood Campbell, an Alexandria native who has been active in civic affairs his whole life. He currently serves on the Alexandria City Manager’s Task Force, and has served in the past on the school board, in the NAACP, on the Human Rights Commission and the Northern Virginia Urban League, to name a few. (Nina Tisara)

Lynnwood Campbell, who trained as an accountant and served on the Alexandria School Board as well as the boards of the Northern Virginia Urban League, the United Way and many others, is photographed from a low angle as he stands before the United Way building with the logo peeking over his shoulder.

Octogenarian Lillian Stanton Patterson, a fourth-generation Alexandrian whose long record of public service includes time at the Alexandria Volunteer Bureau, the Human Relations Council and Project Discovery, poses with a knowing gaze.

Louise Massoud and Lillie Finklea — photographed together — teamed up to save and restore Freedmen’s Cemetery, the resting place for about 1,800 African Americans who in death suffered the indignity of having a gas station and office building built over their graves. The women fought for recognition of the historic site and pressured officials until money was set aside to restore it.

Others in the museum’s exhibit include Ferdinand Day; Carlton Funn Sr.; Eula Miller; Melvin Miller; Bert Ransom; Nelson Greene Sr.; Gwen Menefee-Smith; Dorothy Turner; Willie Bailey Sr.; and Rosa Byrd.

“My thought is that one day, this should be replicated in other communities,” Tisara said.

The photographs are on view through Jan. 4 at the Alexandria Black History Museum, 092 Wythe St. Admission is $2. 703-746-4356. Portraits and brief histories of all awardees can be found at www.alexandrialegends.com.

Patricia Sullivan seeks out news about Alexandria and Arlington County for the Washington Post.
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