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“When you learn the history of the African American story for the first time, you see America with 2020 vision.” – Bernard Kinsey

In 1963, Shirley Pooler found herself in a Tallahassee jail, just one of many college students having been arrested for protests as part of the massive civil rights movement happening on campuses and nationwide at the time. Bernard Kinsey was a fellow freshman at Florida A&M University, involved with a local group championing the movement and supporting student protestors who found themselves navigating a complicated system after being penalized and put on academic probation due to their arrests. While assisting Shirley, Bernard recalls being struck by her “quiet strength,” and the “nerve” she possessed as a young Black woman, taking to the streets and risking arrest in defense of her rights. They found themselves smitten, and fifty-four years later, Bernard proudly boasts, “You pick the right partner, you can’t hardly mess it up.”

After the Kinsey’s married, they dedicated the first ten years of their marriage to travel, exploring the globe with the goal of visiting 100 countries. In each location, they would purchase artwork to remember their travels. However, when they returned home, they became aware that there was much they didn’t know about their own country’s history, particularly that of the contributions of Indigenous, African, and other immigrant populations. They thought deeply about America’s history and how the stories detailing who made America are mostly made up, realizing that what we all know is only a fraction of the narrative. Inspired, they were determined to learn more. Art became the catalyst for their education.

Around the time their son Khalil was born, Roots: The Saga of an American Family by Alex Haley had just come out, another piece of art energizing them to dig deeper. They had already begun collecting African American art, eventually meeting Ernie Barnes, whose piece High Aspirations was one that Bernard had particularly loved, catapulting their collecting into high gear. But when their son was in 3rd grade, he was given a homework assignment to write about his family history, and again, the Kinsey’s found themselves considering how little they still knew about their own history. They began spending family time at the library, ordering in books that the schools didn’t have, and sparking a newfound dedication to collecting historical artifacts as well as their beloved art.

Slow Drag, Ernie Barnes, 1997 - courtesy Google Arts & Culture

Now made up of over 700 pieces of artwork and historical artifacts including paintings, sculptures, rare books, photographs, letters, manuscripts, and more, The Kinsey African American Art & History Collection is considered one of the most comprehensive surveys of African American history and culture outside the Smithsonian Institution. For the first time since it began touring, The Collection will come to the Pacific Northwest. Covering the lives, accomplishments, and artistry of African Americans from the 16th century through the years of slavery and emancipation to the civil rights movement and present day, an exhibit featuring 150 pieces, many of which have not been seen publicly, opens at Tacoma Art Museum on July 31st and runs through November 28, 2021. TAM will be hosting a free Opening Block Party on Saturday, July 31st from 1- 8 pm, including live performances, music, food, local artists, and more.

"The Kinsey Collection strives to give our ancestors a voice, a name, and a personality, enabling the viewer to understand the challenges, obstacles, triumphs, accomplishments, and extraordinary sacrifice of African Americans in building this country,” said Bernard Kinsey. Khalil adds, “This is an American story, and most people only know a fraction of it.”

This important exhibit presents an opportunity to experience Black life in America in a way many of us never have before, through works and artifacts collected and shared with love by a Black family who is dedicated to honoring the African American legacy. We hope you’ll add The Kinsey Collection at TAM to your list of must-do activities before it moves on!

The Bernard Kinsey Family, by Anna Koval


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