African-American Treasures: The collection of Bernard and Shirley Kinsey

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Soldiers-at-Camp-William-Penn_What began as a way to teach their son African-American history has evolved into a book and traveling exhibition devoured by millions.  Over the last decades, prominent Angelenos Bernard and Shirley Kinsey have amassed more than 300 pieces of ephemera and art, which comprise what’s become a literal textbook of the plight and achievements of African-Americans in this country. (Educators in their home state of Florida use their catalogue as a teaching tool.)

You can see a selection of these treasures on display at the Broad Stage’s beautiful gallery through March 9th.

Cultivators_“My father was one of the early fighters of segregation in the south,” Mr. Kinsey told me when I visited him at the show in Santa Monica this week. “My wife and I started with the idea that our son didn’t know enough about his past.  How did African-Americans really come to American and the predicament we came here under?”

Manuscripts, book, documents, paintings, and sculptures “tell the story of the African-American achievement and accomplishment,” said Mr. Kinsey, whom long-time KCRW listeners and Angelenos may recognize as co-chairman of the ReBuild LA efforts in the aftermath of the riots.

Bernard and Shirley Kinsey
Bernard and Shirley Kinsey (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

The Kinseys send their collection on tour; in recent years, it’s appeared at the Smithsonian, and about to open up at Epcot Center.  Among the items on display: an early version of the Emancipation Proclamation, correspondence between Malcolm X and Alex Haley, slave shackles, and 19th-century slave documents.

“It’s better than having it in our home,” he said.  “As much as we miss our babies, it serves the public and the common good.”