Christy S. Coleman

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Christy S. Coleman is an American historian. She is the executive director of the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation and former president and chief operating officer of the American Civil War Museum.

Early life and education[edit]

Coleman was born in central Florida but her family moved to Williamsburg, Virginia, in 1973.[1] She attended Magruder Elementary School, named after a Confederate general, but learned through her parents African American history and culture growing up.[2] As a teenager in 1982, she earned a summer position as a character actor for a slave named Rebecca at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.[3] She wished to continue a career in theatre and enrolled at the College of William & Mary with a major in Government and a minor in Theater, but dropped out after two years to pursue her acting career.[4]

Coleman accepted a museum position in Baltimore, Maryland on the assumption that it would allow for easy access to New York City and future acting possibilities.[4] However, she discovered there was a tenuous relationship between the museum and public housing which stood across from it. As a result, she began to develop programs to engage the kids and families in public housing with the museum such as junior volunteer programs. Her efforts were often rejected by the museum management and she quit to pursue a career as a stockbroker.[5] Her interest in history lead her to return to school and earn a Bachelor of Arts and Master's degree from Hampton University in museum studies.[6] Although she began working full-time as an interpreter at Colonial Williamsburg, her program required an internship. Her advisor placed her at their development office and she wrote her thesis as a proposal for reimagining the African American History programming at Foundation.[4]


Throughout and after college, Coleman continued to work with the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation where she eventually became the first female director of African American Interpretations and Presentations.[1] In 1994, she orchestrated the reenactment of a slave auction which was met with protests from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and Southern Christian Leadership Conference. The protests forced her and one of the actors to meet with the protesters and say "we came here to tell the story of our mothers and our grandmothers. We wanted to do this voluntarily, to teach about the evils of slavery."[7] An estimate of over 2,000 people gathered to watch the sale and after the fact, Coleman said it was "one of the most gut wrenching things" she's ever done in her career.[6]

In 1999, Coleman left Williamsburg to become president and CEO of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History.[6] In her early years at the museum, she established a $12 million core exhibit titled "And Still We Rise: Our Journey Through African American History and Culture" based on Maya Angelou's poem.[8] Before resigning in 2005 to become a full-time mother, Coleman oversaw a five-year Legacy Campaign with a $43 million goal and increased museum membership from 3,500 to 13,000.[9]

In 2008, a new American Civil War Museum opened in Richmond Virginia and they hired Coleman as part of their new leadership.[10] She accepted the position of president and CEO at the museum, during which she oversaw the center's merger with the Museum of the Confederacy and co-lead the Monument Avenue Commission.[5] In recognition of her efforts, Time magazine named her one of their '31 People Changing the South' in 2018 for being "unafraid to wade into the middle of the conversation [of Civil War]".[11]

Coleman stayed at the American Civil War Museum until 2019 when she accepted an executive director position with the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation.[12] She became the fourth executive director in the foundation's history and its first African American leader.[13]

Personal life[edit]

Coleman and her husband Art Espey have two children together.[14]


  1. ^ a b Davenport, Andrew M. (May 2, 2019). "A New Civil War Museum Speaks Truths in the Former Capital of the Confederacy". Retrieved July 24, 2020.
  2. ^ Fernandez, Mariana (May 20, 2019). "The American Civil War Museum's CEO on the Myths That Persist About Our National Conflict". Retrieved July 24, 2020.
  3. ^ Lohmann, Bill (January 17, 2020). "In Richmond, Christy Coleman helped reframe the narrative of the Civil War; Now, as she heads to Williamsburg, she looks back at her career in history". Richmond Times-Dispatch. Archived from the original on July 25, 2020. Retrieved July 24, 2020.
  4. ^ a b c Kneebone, John (June 10, 2019). "A Conversation with Christy Coleman: Prof. Kneebone Interviews the CEO of the American Civil War Museum about Her Road to Public History". Retrieved July 25, 2020.
  5. ^ a b McCluskey, Amy (February 10, 2020). "Christy Coleman, Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation executive director". Retrieved July 24, 2020.
  6. ^ a b c Duster, Chandelis R. (July 12, 2017). "Meet The Black Woman Reclaiming the Narrative of the Civil War". Retrieved July 24, 2020.
  7. ^ "'Slave auction' divides crowd in Williamsburg". Baltimore Sun. October 11, 1994. Retrieved July 24, 2020.
  8. ^ "Turning back time". Metro Times. December 1, 2004. Retrieved July 25, 2020.
  9. ^ Colby, Joy Hakansan (December 3, 2005). "Museum president resigns to become full-time mother". Detroit Free Press. Retrieved July 25, 2020 – via
  10. ^ S. Schneider, Gregory (April 15, 2018). "An African American leader brings a provocative take to expanded Civil War museum". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on April 16, 2018. Retrieved July 25, 2020.
  11. ^ Curran, Colleen (August 12, 2018). "Richmond's Christy Coleman named by Time as one of '31 People Changing the South'". Richmond Times-Dispatch. Retrieved July 25, 2020.
  12. ^ Doiron, Alexa (December 17, 2019). "Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation has a new executive director". Retrieved July 25, 2020.
  13. ^ Robers Jr., Steve (April 20, 2020). "Three months in, Christy Coleman's vision for Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation looks beyond pain of pandemic: 'Everything's on the table'". The Virginia Gazette. Retrieved July 24, 2020.
  14. ^ Eshleman, Tina (October 20, 2017). "Flip to the Back: Christy Coleman". Retrieved July 25, 2020.

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