Shirley and Bernard Kinsey will have been married 53 years next February. Together, they have spent their lives traveling the world and building one of the most comprehensive exhibitions of African American art and culture outside of the Smithsonian Institution. What started as a love of the arts, became so much more when their son, Khalil, a 5th grader at the time, approached them for information about a family history project for school. That project led to a new focus on the larger history of the African American culture and they dedicated the next several decades to building a groundbreaking collection of art and historical artifacts that date back to the 16th century.
The Kinsey's nationally-acclaimed and award-winning exhibit has been viewed by over 15 million people and has toured over 30 cities around the world with stops including The Smithsonian Museum of American History, Walt Disney World's Epcot and The University of Hong Kong Museum. Featuring nearly 200 pieces, the exhibition at the African American Museum of Dallas will be the largest display of the collection to date.
"Ours is one of the few exhibits outside of the Smithsonian that speaks to the African American story starting in 1595," said Bernard Kinsey. "You're going to see documents, books and manuscripts that describe the achievements of African Americans that nobody in this country knows about."
Each and every part of the collection is representative not only of the intersection between art and history but also the Kinsey family's sincere desire to educate, motivate and inspire all who come to experience it. The exhibition covers the lives and artistry of African American people from the 16th century through the years of slavery and emancipation to the civil rights movement and modern day. The items range from masterful paintings, sculptures to rare books and personal letters that celebrate a rich cultural history.
One of the most notable pieces, called 'The Frances Letter,' was drafted by the wife of a slave owner who is speculated to have discovered an affair between her husband and her chambermaid, Frances, in 1854. She wrote a letter to a prominent slave trader in Richmond, Virginia requesting Frances be sold. She then gave Frances, who could not read, the letter to deliver to the slave owner herself. Unbeknownst to her, she was carrying her own fate in her hands. It was later discovered that by 1870 she ended up in Georgia, a free person. This preserved, hand-written letter is just one of many moving and thought-provoking pieces on display.
Also available for viewing is artwork from Ernie Barnes (one of the Kinsey's favorites), followed by an original signed ruling of Brown v. Board of Education, a book of poems by Phillis Wheatley - the first book published by an African American woman in the United States in 1773 - and a host of other rare manuscripts, beautiful artwork and other historically significant works.
"More than anything, I want kids to know, especially African American kids, about all of these wonderful untold stories they can learn about," said Shirley Kinsey. "I want everyone to know that African Americans contributed greatly to this country."
Presented by Toyota Motor North America, The Kinsey Collection will run from Sept. 21, 2019 - March 19, 2020 at the African American Museum of Dallas. Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for seniors (65 and older) and children ages 4-12, and free for children 3 and under. Also, admission is free on Thursdays for seniors 65 and older. You can purchase tickets here.