As the visitor walks through the Kinsey African American Art & History Collection they are exposed to the legacy of the Americas. The visitor encounters materials documenting the age of enslavement and paintings by contemporary African American artists. When one typically learns about the history of colonial America and the United States in school, there is a typical cast of characters. George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Betsy Ross come to mind. In fairness, figures like Crispus Attucks and Sacajawea are discussed, but often in service of a larger narrative about mostly white, male American heroes. The pieces in the Kinsey Collection provide a different and necessary point of view; namely, America’s African roots.
Through primary sources, works of art and artifacts, the visitor learns about the experiences of African Americans and how they contributed to the fabric of the United States. A marriage certificate from the 16th century testifies to two enslaved people sharing their lives with one another in Spanish Florida. An early edition of 18th century African American poet Phillis Wheatley’s Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral signifies the author’s genius. Born in West Africa, Wheatley was an enslaved worker who lived in Boston during the 1760s and 70s. Her poetry, touching on subjects from the early years of Harvard University to “His Excellency, George Washington” provides a unique perspective on the crucible of the American Revolution. Small wonder the “father of our country” asked to meet with her. Meanwhile, works of art by figures such as Romare Bearden and Elizabeth Catlett proclaim the influence African American artists have had on the American aesthetic.
The Kinsey Collection is simultaneously reflective and forward-thinking. It encapsulates the contributions African Americans have made to the history, society, and art of the Americas. I am proud to work with a museum hosting such a rich collection of material culture.
Education Team: Researcher and Floor Staff
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center