WHEELING, W.Va. (WTRF) – “If people can learn from someone in history to have empathy for others, they can do the same thing in the present.” 

This is the message behind the Ohio County Public Library’s Civic Empathy exhibit in collaboration with the Heinz History Center of Pittsburgh. 

Of these 15 sites throughout Western Pennsylvania and Wheeling, one artifact containing Civic Empathy related content is the center of each display.  

The Ohio County Public Library’s centerpiece is Harry Jones’ Twentieth man Speech – describing how Wheeling in 1936 was actually two cities side by side, but completely separate.

”The speech he gave on WWVA Radio, which the exhibit explains, details what segregation was like in Wheeling when there were a separate black community, and a white community and black people were not welcome in white businesses, so he goes into detail in that speech which is sort of a document that recorded what was called Jim Crow segregation. So, the whole exhibit explores different aspects of segregation.”

Sean Duffy – Programming Coordinator/Local History Specialist, Ohio County Public Library

Bringing awareness to this time in history is the centerpiece of the exhibit, and what better way to do that than to create a similar piece for the present day with a present figure. 

Ron Scott Jr. Of the Wheeling YWCA was asked by the library to not only be the voice of the original 20th Man speech for the exhibit, but to be the face for the future of what this display will be through a speech of his own describing 21st century Wheeling. 

”It, kind of, knocks the dust off of history. It doesn’t seem like something archaic that you’re going to learn about and like really have to process your mind to grasp. These are people who are talking about things that you can actually experience, places you can go and see, and then when they let me be involved, I can try to be some sort of a bridge that links this old stuff, to this new stuff and let you know things haven’t changed that much and I’ll show you how some ways things have changed immensely.”

Ron Scott Jr. – Cultural Diversity and Community Outreach Director, YWCA

In his words – this speech is a glimpse into the psyche of the minority amongst the majority. 

”Just because it’s the guy you work with or the guy you sit next to on the bus, doesn’t necessarily mean you know his struggle, or if I’m just Facebook friends with you I might know a few things about you, but speeches like this really gives you insight in what their life might be like.”

Ron Scott Jr. – Cultural Diversity and Community Outreach Director, YWCA

At the end of the exhibit, the call-to-action station asks people to put themselves in the shoes of the people who were affected during the time of segregation to continue the story and message throughout the month of February into the future for years to come.