As long as I’ve been old enough to have an interest in American history, I’ve always thought it strange how the history of my people, African-American history, seemed resigned to a special category, off in a little corner. As if when you talk about the Founding Fathers, Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses Grant, the mention of Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman should be reserved for a different conversation at a later time, when nobody’s really listening.
So when Wells Fargo approached us at MyBrownBaby to talk about my family’s history as part of The Kinsey Collection exhibit, “Untold Stories: Our Inspired History,” I was giddy that they recognized how integral a role African Americans played in the development of America’s greatness.
I grew up hearing stories about my father, Walter Chiles, playing jazz and hanging out with some of the towering figures in American music—artists like Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, Charles Mingus and Miles Davis. You can’t talk about the history of American culture without discussing the creation of jazz. And you can’t discuss jazz without names like Vaughan, Holiday and Davis falling from your lips.
While my dad’s music career never exploded into superstardom, it was clear that he established his own fascinating place in the American journey, whether as a jazz musician playing in the clubs of New York—and around in the country—in the 1960’s or as the leader of a successful R&B band, LTG Exchange, in the 1970’s. Dad even worked with Frank Sinatra. You can’t embed yourself into American culture much more than that, spending days working one-on-one with Sinatra as his keyboardist, preparing him for a major charity concert in the 1960’s.
As I watch myself talk about my family’s story on this video, I’m struck by how important it is for each of us to feel connected to this nation’s history. Because in each of our families, there are stories—fascinating stories that together sketch the incredible arc of this country over the past 250 years. This is the idea behind the Wells Fargo-sponsored exhibit called “Untold Stories: Our Inspired History.” It’s also the thinking embodied in the incredible Kinsey Collection, the fascinating collection of art and artifacts that chronicle African-American history and culture going all the way back to the 1600s—including such artifacts as an early copy of the Emancipation Proclamation, works by legendary artists like Romare Bearden, William H. Johnson, Elizabeth Catlett and Henry O. Tanner, Frederick Douglass, poet Phyllis Wheatley, philosopher Alain Locke and activist Malcolm X.
The must-see exhibit is at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African American Art + Culture in Charlotte, North Carolina through September 14 and then heading to Baltimore’s Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture for the remainder of the year and into early 2014. In addition, check out the collection’s awesome website to see videos and lectures chronicling the works amassed by Bernard and Shirley Kinsey.
After you watch my video, please leave a comment telling your own “Untold Story,” or share one on your own blog and spread the word on Twitter, FaceBook, Instagram and Pinterest with the #KinseyUntold hashtag.
This post is sponsored by Wells Fargo. As always, thank you for reading our blog and supporting our sponsors.
Nick Chiles is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and a New York Times bestselling author of 12 books, including the upcoming "The Rejected Stone: Al Sharpton and the Path To American Leadership," which he co-authored with Al Sharpton.