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‘I Am America: Black Genealogy Through the Eye of An Artist’ opens at San Francisco Main Library’s African American Center Nov. 5

November 11, 2011
Artist Nate Creekmore was inspired to create this artwork by the story of a formerly enslaved African named Litt Young given him by curator Kheven LaGrone for the “I Am America” exhibit.
“I Am America: Black Genealogy Through the Eye of An Artist” will run from Nov. 5, 2011, through Feb. 2, 2012, at the San Francisco Main Library African American Center. A reception with the genealogists and artists will take place on Sunday, Nov. 20, 1-2 p.m. A program follows from 2 to 3 p.m. in the Latino Hispanic Room. The exhibit is curated and created by Kheven LaGrone.

“I Am America” commemorates the Black citizens and families who contributed to the making of America immediately before, during and after the Civil War. The exhibit also revisits the role of the continual slave revolts in the making of America.

The Civil War was the most significant event and the turning point in American history. By ending slavery, it re-united the United States. Slavery had been abolished in Mexico earlier; Mexico’s then president, ex-slave Vicente Guerrero, was of African descent.

However, in his 1935 essay titled “The Propaganda of History,” scholar W.E.B. DuBois argued that post-Civil War American history had been falsified. He wrote that the North was ashamed because they needed the Negro to win the war and “establish a democracy.” The South was ashamed because they lost the war. Historians especially downplayed the significance of slave revolts, particularly the successful Haitian Revolution, in “instigating” both the anti-slavery movement and the Civil War.

According to DuBois, post-Civil War images of the Negro were usually created by white artists and historians who resented the Negro. Thus, the images and stories were usually demeaning stereotypes and caricatures.

DuBois called such re-writing of history “lies agreed upon.”

According to DuBois, post-Civil War images of the Negro were usually created by white artists and historians who resented the Negro. Thus, the images and stories were usually demeaning stereotypes and caricatures. DuBois called such re-writing of history “lies agreed upon.”

Today, family stories and documentation uncovered by Black genealogists refute those lies. For “I Am America,” a few genealogists provided family stories, black-and-white photographs, marriage certificates, land deeds, census records, military papers, published narratives and other documentation on their families. Then artists used the documentation to re-imagine their stories and images.

“’I Am America’ is an outstanding tribute to African Americans who played a crucial role in the shaping of America during the Civil War era. It is a must-see exhibit,” says Nancy Thompson, family historian and author of “Pioneering Spirits: A Legacy of Courage.”

“This exhibit features an American – even world – history and identity I wasn’t taught in school. Thus, I titled the exhibit ‘I Am America,’” says curator Kheven LaGrone. “We are the quintessential ‘All-American.’”

“In fact,” adds LaGrone, “I would argue that the Civil War was Frederick Douglass’ slave insurrection.”

“I would argue that the Civil War was Frederick Douglass’ slave insurrection.”

The artists participating in “I Am America” include Alice Beasley, quiltmaker; Inez Brown, mixed media; Karen Oyekanmi, doll maker; Makeda Rashidi, painter; Malik Seneferu, painter; Marion Coleman, quiltmaker; Morrie Turner, cartoonist; Nate Creekmore, cartoonist; Nena St. Louis, sculptor; Nicka Smith, mixed media; Orlonda Uffre, painter; TaSin Sabir, mixed media; and Tomye, mixed media.

Curator and writer Kheven LaGrone can be reached at Kheven@aol.com.

 

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