VALDOSTA, Ga. — One Christmas gift has transformed into a storytelling museum for Valdosta State University. 

Prominent dignitaries, family members and other supporters attended the soft opening for the Copeland African American Museum Friday evening at VSU Thaxton Hall.

A collection of historical archives, the museum features more than 100 items that founder Roy Copeland gathered himself with the assistance of his wife, Cheryl Copeland.

Cheryl Copeland was shopping for a holiday gift for her husband years ago when she discovered a set of boxing gloves signed by professional athlete Muhammed Ali.

“That’s how collecting artifacts started,” she said. “Each Christmas, birthday, Father’s Day, whatever, we buy him a piece of history.”

Roy Copeland has a love for studying history, his wife said, calling him a history buff.

The two have been caring for the items for the last 25-30 years, Roy Copeland said.

“It means a lot to me because it started with her and we personally selected each of these pieces and we’ve handled them,” he said.

The Valdosta native said the museum is his way of giving back to a community he’s always known.

He did not want to hoard the collection at his home but rather share it with others.

“It’s important that we realize all segments of society have made a significant contribution to what we know as America, that’s the line,” Roy Copeland said. “That is the whole point in all of this.”

It’s his desire for visitors to gain an understanding about the contributions of African-Americans.

As far as current knowledge of black history, he said “some never really knew so they’ll literally be educated, some have forgotten and then there are those that just simply need to know.”

Archives consist of a letter from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a mural featuring the Tuskegee Airmen, a guitar signed by musician B.B. King, biographies of African-American inventors and the Muhammed Ali signed boxing gloves.

The Copeland African American Museum has been a two-year process both for its founders and VSU.

The museum sits in a former university conference room of Thaxton Hall.

Lester Wayne Plumly is the dean of the VSU Harley Langdale Jr. College of Business Administration.

The project is one with a cost of at least $30,000 that was raised through donors.

Contributors were Dr. Charlene Blache and Dr. Larry E. Smith; Lowndes County Sheriff Ashley Paulk and his wife, Ginger Paulk; Copeland, Haugabrook and Walker Attorneys; the 100 Black Men of Valdosta and Southwest Georgia; Dr. Tirrell Andrews and Dr. Lucretia Andrews; and Sammuel M. Matchett, Esq.

“We wanted it so that our students here at Valdosta State, the community, the region and our service region can benefit from this,” Plumly said of the museum.

The museum will be open four hours per day to VSU and the general community.

Plumly hopes the museum builds appreciation for the past and self-confidence for student futures, he said.

The guest list for the soft opening included Georgia Department of Transportation board chair Tim Golden, former professional football player Malcolm Mitchell, Valdosta City Council members and attorneys.

A letter from U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop was featured at the opening.

Following a ribbon cutting, visitors convened to a dinner reception where Mitchell and other guests spoke. 

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