Voices

Freedom Center Voices

Monday, February 12, 2018 - 1:04pm

The Fate of Frances

As I continue making my way through the Kinsey African American Art & History Collection while it’s here through March 4, I come across a letter written in1854. Reading through it I’m extremely appalled and disheartened by its content. The letter details a slave master by the name of AMF Crawford selling off a seventeen year-old girl named Frances he owns to pay for a stable of horses. What’s bad (as this alone is already awful of him taking part in the institution of slavery), he’s taking her away from her family. Even worst, he’s having her hand deliver the instructed letter transferring ownership of her freedom to her new master, unbeknownst to her. All of this and he doesn’t even have any type of courage to tell her this is happening.

Reading the letter literally almost had me in tears as I couldn’t even imagine someone having to go through that – to not even know you’re delivering your freedom to another person as property, never to see your family again. This is all so this slave master can simply pay for horses. This reminds me that when you truly reflect on America’s history, it wasn’t too long ago that this was the “norm” for our society.

Seeing letters such as this one in the exhibit are truly powerful and moving to me. Experiencing this in the Kinsey Collection helps to reiterate the part of our mission of “challenging and inspiring everyone to take courageous steps of freedom today”. It challenges and corrects misconceptions that are often portrayed about history especially pertaining to me being of African descent. Although reading the letter did put me in a bad mood for a good part of my work day, I felt better thinking that hopefully the next person who sees it will also experience similar emotions and will want to take action in seeing atrocities like this never have the chance to happen again.

#28DaysofKinsey

Will jones
Public Relations & Social Media Coordinator
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center   

Friday, February 9, 2018 - 10:44am

A Fresh Perspective

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.

#28DaysofKinsey

Jonathan Turbin
Education Team: Researcher and Floor Staff
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

Wednesday, February 7, 2018 - 4:39pm

This Small Book

The Negro Motorist Green Book, published from 1936 to 1966 by New York City mailman, Victor Hugo Green, was used by African American travelers to traverse a hostile American landscape when trying to get from place to place. When the Green Book arrived at our museum, it needed to be encapsulated for display. I had the opportunity to page through the book before preparing it for the exhibition.

What strikes one immediately about this publication is how small it is. This book contained all the places that were known to be safe or somewhat tolerant of African American travelers throughout the entire country. In 1941, every state, city and town fit into a book that was no more than 20, 8.5” x 5” pages. With 48 States in our Union, just 20 small pages were offered to provide safe havens for lodging, food and other necessities. African American citizens needed this book to safely navigate their own country. I speak of citizens who were denied access to restrooms and had to stop on the side of the road to relieve themselves. Citizens who traveled under the cover of darkness, because it was safer than driving in the daylight. Citizens for whom getting a flat tire in the wrong place meant facing a possible life or death situation. I am speaking of citizens whose lives were literally on the line as they tried to travel their own roads in their own country. This book was made for survival.

 

 

A book that should never have had to exist in a country that claims to be the “Land of the free and the home of the brave” These travelers are the ones who were brave, but they certainly weren’t free. Our country has a great many sins. This is one. There are areas today, in 2018, throughout our nation that are still unsafe for people of color and other minority groups to travel. Our society owes every single person affected by this a better existence. See the copy we have in the Kinsey African American Art & History Collection here at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center as we're in the final weeks.

#28DaysofKinsey

Jesse Kramer
Creative Director
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

Tuesday, February 6, 2018 - 4:52pm

The Works of Ernie Barnes

During my work day, I like to spend about 20 – 30 minutes checking out the exhibits. Of course being that the Kinsey African American Art & History Collection is our newest temporary exhibit, I’ve been spending time seeing rarities I know I’ll probably never have the opportunity to see again.

As I’ve worked my way to some of the last pieces of the exhibit, I come across paintings from an artist by the name of Ernie Barnes. Something about his work titled “Slow Drag” seems quite familiar to me as I carefully examined the elongated figures on the paintings. As I get on the elevator to head back to my desk it suddenly comes to me. The figures look just like a picture my late aunt had in her home. Once I’m at my desk, I google “Works of Ernie Barnes” images and I see just what I envisioned from my memory – a picture of his most famous painting “The Sugar Shack”.

 

 

Seeing that image along with his pieces in the Kinsey Collection brought back so many memories of spending time at my aunt’s home. I also began recalling other places I saw the painting that included other homes and black-owned, mom-and-pop businesses. From this realization I came to appreciate how much of an impact Barnes has had on Black culture, (even learning that Marvin Gaye used the image for his 1976 “I Want You” album cover). It was especially interesting learning that he was an actor and a football player. He used his art to convey the Black experience in America, especially in a feature he used in his paintings in which the figures had their eyes closed. He says “We stop at color quite often. So one of the things we have to be aware of is who we are in order to have the capacity to like others. But when you cannot visualize the offerings of another human being you're obviously not looking at the human being with open eyes”, as the reason behind this preferred feature in his work. 

 

 

Many people tend to overlook the small yet significant stories African Americans have contributed to not only Black culture, but American culture. This little jewel learning about Ernie Barnes and the impact of his work will be something I’ll always cherish as it is exactly the message the Kinsey’s want all guests to take away – learning about the subtle but meaningful impacts and contributions African Americans have made to this country.

#28DaysofKinsey

Will Jones
Public Relations & Social Media Coordinator
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center      

Monday, February 5, 2018 - 3:24pm

Harper's Magazine

As the people of Alabama voted, the cover of Harper's Magazine from November 16, 1867 [which is part of the Kinsey Collection now on display at the Freedom Center] takes on special meaning to me.

Millions of people, both of African and European descent fought to end slavery (finally achieved by the ratification of the 13th Amendment in December 1865) and the recognition of the basic human and civil rights to the formerly enslaved (14th Amendment in July 1868). Almost immediately after the war, Freedman began voting, as depicted here in November 1867. Harper's took note of "the good sense and discretion, and above all the modesty" displayed by the freedmen. The magazine went on to note that they displayed no sense of exaltation or defiance, but were "serious, solemn and determined."

But as we know, the former Confederates, and, in fact, many in the North, resisted the important right of the Freedmen to vote, necessitating the effort to adopt the 15th Amendment in February, 1870.

If only that had been the end of the story. Jim Crow segregation suppressed the vote of African Americans with a merciless hand at the close of Reconstruction, culminating in the late 1890s. Voter suppression was enforced with literacy laws and poll taxes, as well as violence perpetrated by the KKK.

Fighting for the right to vote was a principal goal of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and '60s, culminating in the Voting Rights Act of 1965. A Supreme Court decision in 2013 weakened the ability of the federal government to protect minority voting and various forces have used ways to reduce minority voter registration and influence.
Alabama has been at the center of the struggle for full citizenship and voting rights at every turn. Today, if the Black voters of the state turn out, they could be the deciding factor in this critical special election for the U.S. Senate.

Visit the Kinsey African American Art & History Collection for inspiration and insight at the Freedom Center through February.

#28DaysofKinsey

Dan Hurley
Interim President
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

Friday, February 2, 2018 - 3:53pm

Brown vs. Board

The Kinsey African American Art and History Collection has an incredibly broad range of objects and art to take in. My favorite item in the collection is the signed decision letter for Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka. This document, unanimously approved and signed by the Supreme Court Justices holds special significance for me.

This past September marked the 60-year anniversary of the integration of Little Rock Central High School. Our exhibit Mandela: The Journey to Ubuntu opened at the Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock the same weekend as this important anniversary. Several members of the Little Rock Nine attended the exhibit opening and the following day there was a ceremony in the auditorium of the high school commemorating their courageous actions 60 years prior.

 

 

Each of the surviving eight students spoke, reflecting on their experiences at Central. It was one of those rare times that you realize you are living in a moment of historic significance. Hearing those brave eight individuals speak in that auditorium was one of the most impactful experiences of my life. It may well be the most important moment I ever witness. Two months after returning home from that trip, we began the installation of the Kinsey Collection. Holding the document that allowed those nine brave students access to Little Rock Central, the gravity of the piece was not lost on me. This document is here in our gallery, an unassuming 8.5” x 11” piece of paper with five signatures that forever changed the course of American history, the lives of the Little Rock Nine and every student that followed.

#28DaysofKinsey

Jesse Kramer
Creative Director
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

Thursday, February 1, 2018 - 4:59pm

Quiet Strength

The Kinsey African American Art & History Collection is incredibly powerful and it has been an honor to promote the exhibition with the NURFC team these past few months. The breadth and depth of content, historical and personal, highlights the untold stories of so many Americans – from photographic, literary and artistic perspectives. I believe it would be nearly impossible to walk through a personal collection of this caliber and not have one, or more, objects speak to you. I try to make a point to spend at least 10 minutes in the Skirball Gallery each day I am in the office and “get to know” a new piece of the collection and I have learned so much.

One object in particular that catches my eye each time I walk through The Kinsey Collection is a book signed to Shirley Kinsey. This book, titled Quiet Strength, was signed by Rosa Parks in 1998.
I’m a fan of signed books. I’ve been known to stand in line for extended periods of time for the opportunity to thank an author for their work and have them sign a copy of my book.

Seeing this book has made me ask myself – how long would you stand in line for Rosa Parks’ signature? How could you possibly begin to say thank you and honor her life’s work, her journey? I think the only answer is another question: How could you leave a line leading you to Rosa Parks?

#28DaysofKinsey

Jamie Glavic
AVP of Marketing & Communications
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

Thursday, January 25, 2018 - 5:19pm

28 Days of The Kinsey Collection

In honor of Black History Month we want to recognize the many contributions and triumphs African Americans made to America throughout history. What better way to show this than to highlight the pieces of the Kinsey African American Art & History Collection? 

 

Married for over forty years, activist couple Bernard and Shirley Kinsey have built a world-renowned exhibition that challenge and redefine African American identity and representation in history and arts. What began as a third grade project for their son Khalil – turned in to one of the largest privately owned collections of African American art, artifacts and manuscripts in the country. Spanning over 400 years, their collection feature works from Zora Neale Hurston, Romare Bearden, and Elizabeth Catlett – to name a few. Guests can even find pieces that have local ties to the city of Cincinnati such as the “Autumn Landscape” by Robert S. Duncanson, who spent the majority of his professional career in the Queen City. 

This is the second time the exhibit has made its way here to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. It was originally the second location the collection appeared when it began traveling in 2006. Since then, it has been displayed at the California African American Museum, The Smithsonian National Museum of American History, Epcot Center at Disney World and The Hong Kong University Museum and Gallery to name a few, and has won many prestigious awards including the President’s National Award for Museum and Library Services. 

Throughout February our staff, volunteers and docents will highlight pieces of the collection as well as give you first-person accounts of their experiences in the gallery. See the Kinsey African American Art & History Collection, presented by Macy’s, at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center before it closes on Saturday, March 3. #MyNURFC #KinseyatNURFC

Will Jones
Public Relations & Social Media Coordinator
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

 

 

Friday, January 12, 2018 - 1:03pm

National Underground Railroad Freedom Center Appalled by Offensive Language Reportedly Used by President Trump

As an organization devoted to exploring and understanding the legacy of slavery in order to ensure freedom for all, we at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center are appalled by the offensive language reportedly used by the President in reference to Haiti and African nations. This language is unacceptable and the attitude being articulated perpetuates white privilege and superiority – undermining people of color in our global community.

As an organization devoted to freedom, inclusion and unity we denounce racist rhetoric. This is our charge as a museum of conscience, education center and convener of dialogue. The language used by the President, followed by the lament about not attracting more northern European immigrants, is beyond alarming. The leaders at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center call on the public to take a stand and share that this language is not reflective of the attitude of all American people. As our history dramatically demonstrates, the success of our nation is thanks to our diversity and as a result, the American dream cannot and should not be an impossible dream for immigrant communities of color.

Friday, January 12, 2018 - 12:00pm

The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center Celebrates the Life and Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

This weekend through Monday, January 15, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center will begin honoring the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his many contributions through a series of programs and activities. We encourage you take part in celebrating with us as we’re sure to have something you’ll enjoy.

Gallery Talk: Have We Achieved MLK’s Dream will feature a discussion with Pastor K.Z. Smith of Corinthian Baptist Church on Saturday, January 13, at 1:30 p.m. The Gallery Talk Series provides visitors with the opportunity to engage with museum staff and community leaders to discuss social injustice, freedom and equality. The series is included in general admission and open to the public.

The 2018 King Legacy Awards Breakfast will be Monday, January 15, with doors opening at 7:30 a.m. and breakfast beginning at 8:00 a.m. The breakfast honors the participants of the King Legacy Youth Leadership Program. The King Legacy Youth Program provides leadership opportunities for graduates of the Freedom Center’s Youth Docent Program and scholarship funds upon completion of the program. The keynote speaker is The Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati Artistic Director of Education and Outreach, Deondra Kamau Means.

The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center will open to the public from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. with free general admission to the museum’s permanent exhibitions and programming for the day. Special programming and initiatives will include the Hoxworth Cincinnati Blood Drive; Bead for Life bracelet sale in conjunction with the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center’s Modern Day Slavery initiatives; membership opportunities for the chance to win prizes, and a community concerts throughout the day beginning at 11:00 a.m.

We hope your participation in this annual day of service will inspire you to continue the ongoing fight in fulfilling Dr. King’s dream. #MyNURFC

Will Jones

Public Relation & Social Media Coordinator

National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

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