A New Exhibition at the African American Art Museum Dallas Offers a Comprehensive Look at America’s True History

A father’s gaze wanders into the distance while his wife dusts the cover of a book. Their son stands behind them and reads what his father has discovered. The living painting depicts the Kinsey family, whose collection is now on display at the African American Art Museum Dallas and runs through March 1, 2020.

The Kinsey African American Art and History Collection, which opened last week at Fair Park and is considered one of the most comprehensive collections of African American art and history outside the Smithsonian, includes more than 150 rare documents, works of art, and photos dating back to 1595.

Bernard Kinsey says he and his wife, Shirley, had no plans to collect an exhibit of museum-quality artifacts, but they grew organically over time through their travels and their desire to teach and share the history of Black Americans .

“We have been excluded from history,” he told a crowd that had gathered in the museum foyer. “[African Americans] were photographed out of everything of importance. ”

What the Kinsey family does, says Bernard Kinsey, brings back the contributions of African Americans, some of whom were goldsmiths, silversmiths, ironworkers, artisans, and more, back into the historical narrative.

“We helped,” he says, adding that as long as blacks are “respected” and learn their true history, people will continue to seek to prove their worth rather than realizing their existence.

“You can’t respect someone you don’t know about,” he says.

The acclaimed collection includes a brightly colored 1940 oil painting by Wheeler Waring entitled “Woman Wearing Orange Scarf” and a first edition of Phillis Wheatley’s 1773 book Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral. Other items include a copy of the Dred Scott decision of 1857, the earliest known black baptism and marriage certificate. There is also a letter from Malcolm X to Alex Haley, author of Roots: The Saga of a American Family.

To date, more than 15 million people have seen the exhibition, which has toured 30 cities in the US and abroad, according to a press release.

Bernard Kinsey calls the collection an exploration of a creative explosion of intellect and community. It is presented by Toyota Motor North America and coincides with the museum’s 45th anniversary.

“We were left out of history. [African Americans] were photographed out of everything of importance. “- Bernard Kinsey

While describing various historical documents to a group of patrons, Khalil Kinsey, the son of Bernard and Shirley Kinsey, speaks passionately about the beauty of the artifacts, as well as the glimmers of humanity mixed with pain and struggle.

You don’t think about it [slaves] be insured, ”he says of an insurance policy.

In another document, a woman describes her slave as the best housekeeping she ever had and regrets having to sell her. The slave delivered the envelope herself, Khalil says, unaware that she would be sold and separated from her family, never to be reunited.

A man named Henry Butler had the opportunity to buy his wife and children from their owner for $ 100, Khalil reports, before turning his attention to a proclamation in North Carolina that he believed gave anyone the right to kill or destroy what they believed was a fugitive slave.

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“This used any person to kill fugitive slaves with no evidence,” he says.

Khalil laughed as he read part of a letter a woman had written to her disdained lover that told him it was unnecessary that he “should ever visit her again”. “I’ll ask the police to make sure I’m not upset,” he read.

Khalil later pointed out a document showing how Moses, a black soldier who had been denied a pension after the Civil War, received the pension because a white Confederate soldier vouched for the former medic had saved his life. He points to a Confederate currency display and says, “If you look closely, you will see a black man picking cotton.”

Khalil shared that as an adult, it was important for him to know that there is a wealth of information out there. “This is a beacon,” he says of the museum. “[The African American Art Museum Dallas] is a place where more of our young people should come to find themselves and where we should all find each other. This is American history. “

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