Permanent artifacts from Kinsey Collection held at Black Archives

Kinsey Collection artifacts held in the Black Archives
showing main exhibition area. 
Photo credit: Alexis Gollman

It is not every day that you get to travel back in time. The Kinsey Collection gives guests an opportunity to see into the lives and minds of Africans and African-Americans of the past. A portion of this is in the Meek-Eaton Black Archives on the campus of Florida A&M University (FAMU).

The collection is a combination of art and history with artifacts that span from 1595 to the 21 Century, that is from several sources, from the Kinsey family, auctions and from traveling to 90 different countries around the world. Majority of the pieces in the collection are from people of African descent.

The collection that was brought to the Black Archives opened in March and is comprised of sculptures, paintings, and documents. It is permanent, however; new pieces will be interchanged randomly throughout the year.

“There will be different documents and art pieces that come in and are switched out with the current pieces on display,” said Tatjana Lightbourn, the Meek-Eaton Black Archives gallery coordinator.

The Kinsey Collection is owned by FAMU  alumni, Bernard and Shirley Kinsey. The couple met on FAMU’s campus in 1963 when students were fighting for civil rights. Bernard Kinsey is a highly-accomplished businessman and the former vice president of Xerox, while Shirley Kinsey is a retired educator and training manager for Xerox.

Together they own KBK Enterprises, Inc., a real estate development firm and do a lot of philanthropic work. They have raised over 22 million dollars for charity and education, which FAMU has been a recipient.

The pieces in the exhibit are intentionally put in chronological order, from the late 15th century through Civil Rights era. It gives visitors a better idea of how African-Americans have progressed throughout history.

“As a member of the exhibition team, we put everything in chronological order because we wanted everybody to understand that no matter what we’ve been through we are always triumphant,’ Lightbourn said. “Even the documents that are shown depict how African-Americans were able to push through.”

There are several pieces in the collection that might surprise and interest visitors, such as Phyllis Wheatley’s poetry book. Wheatley was born in West Africa and sold into slavery, but her owners taught her how to read and write. At 19 she became the first African-American to publish a book of poetry.  

“The document that shows Phillis Wheatley and her various poems are one my favorites specifically because she is accredited to be one of the first published African-American female poets, which is very important to me being a spoken word poet and artist in general,” Lightbourn said. “Her poetry is fascinating because of the purpose behind what she wrote about and because of her own story.”

In the collection, there is a letter that Malcolm X wrote to Alex Haley regarding his autobiography. Meek-Eaton Black Archives staff member and FAMU student, Marcus Millidge, was impressed to read the document.

“I didn’t know that Alex Haley helped write Malcolm X’s autobiography, that document stood out to me,” Millidge said.

Some of the pieces allow guest to see life through the lens of that person. A prime example is Zora Neale Hurston’s series of letters displayed in the exhibit that captures her personality. In her letters, she shows how she can be passive aggressive and humorous at the same time.

“Many items stand out," said Nashid Madyun, Director of the Meek-Eaton Black Archives.  "Zora Neale Hurston has a series of letters to her ex or soon to be ex at the time that is a mix of humor, literary flair, and emotion and I think that is an interesting series."

“It’s a remarkable collection of documents that tells a story that is not commonly told,” Madyun expressed.