NEW-YORK HISTORICAL SOCIETY TO
EXPLORE RACE IN AMERICA
Inaugural Exhibition Black Citizenship in the Age of Jim Crow
On View September 7, 2018 – March 3, 2019
Groundbreaking initiative receives major support from the New York City Council,
the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor, and the Ford Foundation
New York, NY – June 27, 2018 – The New-York Historical Society today announced a new initiative to dedicate museum space to the topics of freedom, equality, and civil rights in America. Launching in fall 2018 with the inaugural exhibition Black Citizenship in the Age of Jim Crow (on view September 7, 2018 – March 3, 2019), the initiative will primarily explore the long struggle of African Americans for full rights as citizens, including the right to be accepted and to feel safe, with future exhibitions widening the lens to include other historically marginalized groups. Major funding for this initiative was provided by the New York City Council.
“At a time of great urgency for public understanding of the nation’s founding principles of freedom and equality—and in the context of the long struggle of Americans, in particular African Americans, to ensure that these principles apply to all—the New-York Historical Society aims to educate the public about the roots of contemporary civil and equal rights movements in the Constitution and its Amendments over time,” said Dr. Louise Mirrer, president and CEO of New-York Historical. “Establishing rotating space throughout the museum builds on our long and sustained record of exhibitions and programs around the history of America’s diversity, ranging from our acclaimed exhibition Slavery in New York (2005) to more recent shows exploring the Latino, Asian American, and Jewish American experiences. Above all, this landmark initiative responds to our deep conviction that telling the story of American history is important, but that it is inadequately known, taught, and understood today.”
In a letter of support for the project, Lonnie G. Bunch III, Founding Director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture wrote: “As the founding Director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., I recognize the urgent mission of cultural organizations to shed light on the persistent implications of slavery and racism on our nation’s institutions and our individual lived experiences. I am heartened that the New-York Historical Society has committed to educating the public on these complex issues in New York and I look forward to continued partnership.” Former New York City Mayor David N. Dinkins wrote: “At this crucial time in our nation’s trajectory and consciousness, I cannot think of a more urgent mission for this cultural institution to establish.”
The inaugural exhibition, Black Citizenship in the Age of Jim Crow, examines the meaning of citizenship for African Americans following the abolition of slavery, through Reconstruction and the Jim Crow era. Future exhibitions at the Museum include Betye Saar: Keepin’ It Clean (November 2, 2018 – May 27, 2019), highlighting the work of an iconic figure of the Black Arts Movement of the 1970s, whose complex assemblage sculptures address race, memory, and black consciousness; Augusta Savage: Renaissance Woman (May 3 – July 28, 2019), showcasing the work of the influential Harlem Renaissance sculptor who overcame poverty, racism, and sexual discrimination, and whose work elevated images of black culture into mainstream America; and Stonewall 50 at New-York Historical Society, comprising an exhibition and two special installations commemorating this historic turning point in the modern LGBTQ civil rights movement (May 24 – Sep 22, 2019).
Black Citizenship in the Age of Jim Crow
Black Citizenship in the Age of Jim Crow, which has received major funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor, the Ford Foundation, Crystal McCrary and Raymond J. McGuire, and Agnes Gund, explores the struggle for full citizenship and racial equality that unfolded in the 50 years after the Civil War. When slavery ended in 1865, a period of Reconstruction began (1865–1877), leading to such achievements as the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution. By 1868, all persons born in the United States were citizens and equal before the law, but efforts to create an interracial democracy were contested from the start. A harsh backlash ensued, ushering in the “separate but equal” age of Jim Crow.
Curated by Dr. Marci Reaven, New-York Historical’s vice president of history exhibitions, and Lily Wong, assistant curator, Black Citizenship in the Age of Jim Crow is developed in collaboration with New-York Historical Trustee Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr., and Reconstruction-era scholar Dr. Eric Foner. A four-part documentary produced by Dr. Gates, Reconstruction: America after the Civil War, is scheduled for release following the exhibition. The exhibition benefitted from collaboration with the National Museum of African American History and Culture and includes objects from the NMAAHC collection. Black Citizenship in the Age of Jim Crow will travel nationally.
Opening to mark the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment, the exhibition is organized chronologically from the end of the Civil War to the end of World War I and highlights the central role played by African Americans in advocating for their rights. It also examines the depth and breadth of opposition to black advancement, including how Jim Crow permeated the North. Art, artifacts, photographs, and media illustrate these transformative decades in American history and their continuing relevance today. Exhibition highlights include:
- portrait of Dred Scott (ca. 1857), a Missouri slave who sued for his freedom and lost after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that no black person, free or enslaved, could ever be a U.S. citizen;
- Thirteenth Amendment (1865), signed by President Abraham Lincoln, which permanently abolished U.S. slavery;
- slave shackles (1866) cut from the ankles of 17-year-old Mary Horn, who was held captive even after slavery was abolished the year before, until her fiancé asked for help from a Union soldier who removed the chains and married the couple;
- Uncle Ned’s School (1866) a plaster sculpture by artist John Rogers depicting an improvised classroom created by African Americans during Reconstruction;
- marriage certificate (1874) of Augustus Johnson and Malinda Murphy, who made their long-standing relationship legal during Reconstruction;
- activist Ida B. Wells’ pamphlet Southern Horrors (1892), which reported that 728 lynchings had taken place in just the previous eight years and was written to “arouse the conscience of the American people to a demand for justice to every citizen”;
- vegetable shampoo tin (ca. 1910-1920) by the Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing Co., a cosmetics empire whose African American founder became a millionaire;
- World War I toy soldier diorama featuring African American troops in the 369th Infantry Regiment known as the “Harlem Hellfighters”; and
- maquette for artist Kara Walker’s Katastwóf Karavan (2017), a 2018 public sculpture installed at Algiers Point, New Orleans, featuring provocative silhouettes that depict slavery and racial stereotypes.
The exhibition also looks at how housing segregation in Manhattan eventually led to community-building in Harlem, where local individuals and organizations laid the foundation for the Harlem Renaissance, with a focus on the area around Harlem’s important 135th Street nexus, including black churches. Black Citizenship in the Age of Jim Crow concludes with an exploration of black military service during World War I and the struggle for equality in the decades to follow. With the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act, the most significant civil rights bills since Reconstruction, these laws signaled the end of legalized Jim Crow, though the struggle for full citizenship continued.
A full slate of public programs complements Black Citizenship in the Age of Jim Crow. On September 24, architectural historian Barry Lewis examines how Harlem has evolved into one of the world’s most celebrated neighborhoods through the lens of its buildings, from its classic Victorian brownstones to its renowned ballrooms. On September 25, historian Manisha Sinha and journalist Brent Staples discuss the methods through which the South sought to reinstate slavery—including lynching, disenfranchisement, sharecropping, convict lease labor, and segregation—during the Jim Crow era, as well as how the African American population resisted. On October 1, historians David W. Blight and Eddie S. Glaude Jr. delve into the life of one of the most important Americans of the 19th century, Frederick Douglass. On October 16, historian Sean Wilentz, in conversation with David M. Rubenstein, illuminates the strident political and constitutional struggle over slavery that began during the Revolution and concluded with the Confederacy’s defeat.
On December 18, scholar Randall Kennedy discusses the desegregation of the United States armed forces, an important but oft-neglected chapter in American history. On January 15, experts examine how fugitive slaves shaped the American story—from the Revolution to the Civil War—while on February 13, historians uncover the history of how free African American activists fought for their status as citizens before the Civil War. On February 26, Professor Khalil Gibran Muhammad discusses how the legacy of Jim Crow continues to reverberate throughout American society today and illuminates how much work is still left to be done on the path towards racial equality and civil rights for all. As part of the Museum’s free Justice in Film series, Cabin in the Sky (1943) will be shown on March 1. On March 9, New-York Historical welcomes U.S. Senator Doug Jones, who served as U.S. attorney in Alabama where he famously prosecuted members of the Ku Klux Klan for their roles in the 1963 Birmingham Church bombing.
Families can navigate Black Citizenship in the Age of Jim Crow together using an educator-designed booklet. The family guide includes prompts for intergenerational discussion and engaging activities, and acts as a family appropriate highlights tour of the exhibition. On weekends throughout the exhibition’s run, young visitors can meet Living Historians portraying activists and famous figures from the Reconstruction and Jim Crow eras, like Ida B. Wells and Madam C.J. Walker, demonstrating their rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. On opening weekend (September 8–9), the 6th United States Colored Troops will demonstrate 19th-century military drills. The troop returns on November 10 as well.
Major funding for the new initiative was provided by the New York City Council, with support from City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Council Member Helen Rosenthal, Council Member Daniel Dromm, and Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer.
Lead support for Black Citizenship in the Age of Jim Crow provided by National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor. Major support provided by the Ford Foundation, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, Crystal McCrary and Raymond J. McGuire, and Agnes Gund.
Exhibitions at New-York Historical are made possible by Dr. Agnes Hsu-Tang and Oscar Tang, the Saunders Trust for American History, the Seymour Neuman Endowed Fund, and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature. WNET is the media sponsor.
About the New-York Historical Society
The New-York Historical Society, one of America’s preeminent cultural institutions, is dedicated to fostering research and presenting history and art exhibitions and public programs that reveal the dynamism of history and its influence on the world of today. Founded in 1804, New-York Historical has a mission to explore the richly layered history of New York City and State and the country, and to serve as a national forum for the discussion of issues surrounding the making and meaning of history. New-York Historical is also home to one of the oldest, most distinguished libraries in the nation—and one of only sixteen in the United States qualified to be a member of the Independent Research Libraries Association—the Patricia D. Klingenstein Library, which contains more than three million books, pamphlets, maps, atlases, newspapers, broadsides, music sheets, manuscripts, prints, photographs and architectural drawings.
Ines Aslan, New-York Historical Society Julia Esposito, Polskin Arts
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Image credit: Marriage certificate, 1874. Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of Louis Moran and Douglas Van Dine
Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this exhibition do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.