Exhibit honors 150th anniversary of Emancipation Proclamation

african kings

An acclaimed exhibit of African-American art and artifacts that has traveled the country in honor of the Emancipation Proclamation’s 150th anniversary will mark the final leg of its national tour in Baltimore.

The Kinsey Collection: Shared Treasures of Bernard & Shirley Kinsey – Where Art & History Intersect opens today at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African-American History & Culture and runs through March 2014.

The wide-ranging collection chronicles some 400 years of African-American history and culture dating back to the 1600s. It includes art, rare books, historical documents and much more.

Among the offerings: an early copy of the Emancipation Proclamation, a bronze bust of Frederick Douglass, paintings from the Harlem Renaissance, female slave shackles, correspondence between Malcolm X and Alex Haley, the poetry of Phillis Wheatley, documents from the Civil Rights Movement,  and a 19thCentury image depicting the first African-American men to serve in the U.S. Senate and Congress.

The pieces are beautifully showcased in the Reginald F. Lewis museum, a sprawling architectural gem named for the late African American business mogul from Baltimore.

The largest African-American facility of its kind on the East Coast, the museum boasts 82,000 square feet of space devoted to the history and accomplishments of African-Americans, with special emphasis on Marylanders such as Harriet Ross Tubman.

The Kinseys believe it is a fitting venue for their one-of-a kind collection.

“We are striving to give our ancestors a voice, name and personality,” said Bernard Kinsey, a retired Xerox executive turned collector, philanthropist and educator.

“We want the viewer to understand the challenges, obstacles, triumphs and extraordinary sacrifice of African-Americans who’ve greatly contributed to the success of this country.”

Shirley Kinsey agreed.

“We want people, especially kids, to learn about black history not just in February, but all year,” she said.

The Kinseys are a prominent Los Angeles couple who met in the ’60s while students at Florida A & M University. They have been married 46 years and have a son, Khalil.

The tight-knit family launched the collection three decades ago; since that time their personal art and historical artifacts have gone from being displayed in their California home to venues nationwide.

They include the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington D.C. and Disney World’s EPCOT Center, where a portion of the collection will remain through 2015.

The latest tour is the result of a collaboration between the Kinsey family and Wells Fargo; the financial services company is sponsoring the collection’s journey to museums in three cities.

Things kicked off last February at the Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD) in San Francisco. From there it was onto the Harvey B. Gantt Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, and now, Baltimore.

“Creating this national tour that shows appreciation of culture, diversity and inclusion is part of our values,” said Lisa Frison, a company vice president and African-American segment manager. “It’s a way to highlight untold stories and bring to light a shared vision that educates, celebrates and empowers everyone.”

In addition to hosting the exhibit at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum, Wells Fargo marketing manager Cheryl McDonald said the company will also present special events in conjunction with the museum.

Already, dozens of Baltimore area high school students have viewed the collection. At today’s opening, Bernard Kinsey will lecture on African-American history. There will also be related events with historians and others in the coming weeks, aimed at engaging the community.

Last night, a gala reception at the museum drew Baltimore’s mayor, members of the Lewis family, and hundreds of guests to welcome the Kinsey Collection.

Skipp Sanders, Ph.D., executive director of the museum, could barely contain his excitement.

“The collection is the perfect example of how art can be used to explain history,” said Sanders, who urged people of all backgrounds to embrace the African-American experience as integral to America’s history. “It is a privilege for us to bring an exhibition to Maryland that has gained so much prominence. We hope it will bring new visitors here from all over the country.”

To complement the exhibit, Wells Fargo has launched an online campaign called Untold Stories: Our Inspired History. It features a four-part short film series narrated by celebrity influencers Jordin SparksLauren LondonLance Gross and Talib Kweli taking viewers through specific points in history and highlighting artifacts from The Kinsey Collection.

The campaign also includes video vignettes featuring prominent lifestyle bloggers sharing their personal stories.

While the Kinsey family isn’t certain where their collection will go once the exhibit wraps in March, they’re on a mission to continue to enlighten and inform people.

Indeed, the family not only pursues artistic endeavors, but philanthropy. Their largess includes raising millions of dollars for HBCUs and sending nearly 400 African-American students to college via the Bernard & Shirley Kinsey Foundation for Arts & Education.

“The nature of the way things have unfolded has been a natural progression,” said Khalil Kinsey. “Ordained would be a good word. We have a wish list and will see what happens next.”