Remembering Denise ValentineMarch 25, 2020
It is with heavy hearts that we mourn the loss of Denise Valentine, a beloved educator at the Museum since our opening year, who passed away over the weekend. At the Museum, Denise captivated groups of children and adults alike with her humor and deep knowledge of and passion for history. It is bittersweet that her voice is immortalized on the Museum’s audio tour, which features Denise reading a poem by African American poet Phillis Wheatley.
Long before she joined the Museum, Denise was an acclaimed storyteller and interpreter dedicated to preserving and sharing African American history with residents of and visitors to Philadelphia. Her story has been wonderfully told as part of Sofiya Ballin’s Black History Untold project and by the Philadelphia Inquirer. We are grateful to her for wisdom, insight, and generous spirit, and we take heart in remembering the legacy she leaves behind in each of us and in every person she touched. Our hearts are with her friends and family at this difficult time.
“Forward-looking institutions like this can have an influence. They can encourage other institutions to tell the whole story.” – Denise Valentine
Tributes from Museum friends and colleagues:
“We will all miss her knowledge, her humor, and her modesty at work. Her loss is just a reminder, especially now, of the intertwined nature of our daily existence and the need to care for all those whose lives touch ours.” – Andy W.
“Denise made me laugh, cry and, most of all, think about the past in a way that reveals so many lessons for the present and the future. Denise was an inspiration and I will miss her deeply. – Mike W.
“Denise introduced my son and I to the museum. We came on a field trip with his 4th grade class while they were studying this period. Denise was our guide. Her passion for storytelling was evident, and contagious. My son responded to this field trip more excitedly than any other he had taken. He kept his character card in his room and asked often to return to the museum. This initial experience led me to become part of MOAR’s social media audience, where a few months later I learned about openings in the Education department. Our experience with Denise directly led me to become an Educator at the museum, which has enriched my life in so many ways. I am tremendously grateful for that.” – Nicole P.
“Denise encouraged storytelling and set a high bar for the quality of our Museum programming and the power to make a first impression… When I saw her in the audience at events, I always paid closer attention to the program so that I'd get a chance to ask her insights later!” – Hannah B.
“As the weight of the moment sits heavily upon me, I am inspired by a story that Denise often shared with the visitors who took her walking tour to Washington Square. Pointing out that this now green patch of parkland was once called Congo Square, a gathering and burial place for people of African descent, she would teach her group a song, ‘Trouble’s Coming.’ As a keen student of history, Denise felt deep in her soul the strength that carries humans through times of unimaginable hardship. I feel her with us today and hear her voice singing ‘You bring the fire. I’ll bring the water.’” – Scott S.
“The fact that we both shared a deep passion for sharing the life and experiences of people of African descent in my native Philadelphia and beyond gives me tremendous pause as to the importance of our work. I am so saddened to hear of her passing and look forward to honoring the work that she championed. We will remember.” – Michael I.
“Many of you will know Denise as one of our first generation of Museum Education staff members but also a renowned Philadelphia storyteller, performer, and activist. Denise was someone who lived out her belief that the American Revolution is an ongoing idea with the power to change the world for the better. Now more than ever, we need to nurture that spark.” – Tyler P.
“I will never forget my conversations with Denise Valentine, a great American and a great public historian. She fell in service to the nation, in the midst of teaching schoolchildren about their history. I recall watching the Washington tent film with her for the first time. She generously shared her feelings about Washington from her perspective as an African American woman who had long interpreted at the President’s House in Philadelphia where an enslaved woman named Ona Judge had once escaped. She reflected that the movie made her see Washington as a person in a way that she had not before, having so often primarily seen him as a slaveholder. And, she reflected on the meaning of this her own identity, having started life with her pre-married name of “Denise Washington.” I think she broke the hearts of the three dozen or so people in the room when she said, “I always loved my country, but I have often felt that it did not love me back.” But her message, as always, was one of hope and the healing power of looking honestly at the past and optimistically at the future. I was so proud that she felt MoAR was a place where she could tell her story, and I hope she knew how well-loved and admired she was by the staff of the Museum of the American Revolution.” – Philip M.