A stunning collection of African-American history and art has been unfurled at the Atlanta History Center’s opening of the nationally exclaimed exhibit, “The Kinsey Collection: Shared Treasures of Bernard and Shirley Kinsey, Where Art and History Intersect.”
More than 130 breathtaking items from the private stash of African-American collectors Bernard and Shirley Kinsey are laid out in the halls of the History Center in Buckhead, displaying incredibly important and moving artifacts from across the breadth of centuries that Africans have graced these shores.
The exhibit, which will be on display through July 13, features such finds as the earliest known African-American marriage record dating back to 1598; a first edition of Phillis Wheatley’s book of poetry, published in 1773—the first published African-American poet and the first published African-American woman; an original copy of the Supreme Court’s 1857 Dred Scott decision; a letter that Malcolm X wrote to Alex Haley in 1963 when they were working on “The Autobiography of Malcolm X”; a letter Dr. Martin Luther King wrote to his New York agent in 1957 making changes in his publishing contract and telling her he would soon be finished his book.
The exhibit, which is sponsored by Wells Fargo, has already traveled to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., and 14 other venues—including the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco, the Harvey B. Gantt Center in Charlotte and the Reginald F. Lewis Museum in Baltimore.
Walking through the exhibit takes the visitor on a trip through American history and is a vibrant reminder of the vital role African-Americans played in the formation of the nation. In addition to rare books and artifacts, it contains paintings and other works of art, early photographs and modern sculptures that the Kinseys have collected during their 47 years of marriage and travel to more than 90 countries.
Bernard, who began collecting more than 35 years ago with his wife Shirley and eventually his son Khalil, was inspired to begin the collection when he saw an original bill of sale of William Johnson, who was sold for $550 in 1832.
“All the Kinsey Collection is trying to do is put Black folks in the story,” Bernard said at the opening reception last Thursday. “The myth of absence says we’re invisibly present. We’re there but not part of the picture and the story. We brought nuance to our ancestors’ lives. We have brought them out of the graves and brought them to life.”
The Kinseys have also published a gorgeous 200-page book that displays their wonderful collection on printed pages—though the book, while lovely, can’t compare to seeing these works in person. There’s also an informative website, with videos and lectures chronicling the works amassed by Bernard and Shirley Kinsey.
Through the Wells Fargo sponsorship, the History Center is holding Wells Fargo Free Admission Weekends on the third full weekend of each month from April to June. Otherwise the adult admission is $16.50, $13 for seniors and students over 13, and $11 for kids age 4-12. Children under 4 are free.
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.