Renowned African American Art And History Exhibit Opens In Tulsa

May 21, 2021

Exhibits from Bernard (left), Shirley and Khalil Kinsey's collection of more than 700 artifacts of Black history and culture are now on display at Greenwood Cultural Center and the Gathering Place.
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Greenwood Cultural Center and Gathering Place are now hosting exhibits from one of the world’s foremost Black art and history collections.

Bernard and Shirley Kinsey started the Kinsey African American Art and History Collection in an effort to help their son, Khalil, learn Black history he wasn’t being taught in school — and that they couldn’t fill the gaps in, either. The collection of more than 700 artifacts dates back to the 16th Century and shows thriving, successful Black cultures existed around the globe before many were forced to integrate into other societies.

Bernard said that often surprises people, much like learning about Black Wall Street and the Tulsa Race Massacre does.

"I hope that people will see that this arc of history is really something that Black people have been a part of from the beginning and this wasn’t some anomaly that happened here in Tulsa," Bernard Kinsey said.

Shirley Kinsey said their collection is meant to give a voice, personality and name to Black people, who have been excluded from much of history, and she hopes that will improve conversations between white and Black Americans today.

"If I know your history and I understand that and can respect that, but you don’t know very much about mine and you don’t know very much about what my people did, then you don’t respect me as well. And we can’t have a real eye-to-eye conversation. And so, that’s where I’d like to see this go. I think it’s all a part of helping Tulsa heal and helping us heal in other ways, too," Shirley Kinsey said.

Items on display include first-edition copies of books by Booker T. Washington, Phillis Wheatley and W.E.B. Du Bois. In one section at Greenwood Cultural Center, visitors can see bills of sale for enslaved people, insurance documents and population tallies under the Three-Fifths Compromise.

Discussions about bringing the Kinsey collection to Tulsa started almost a year ago. Exhibits at both Greenwood Cultural Center and the Gathering Place ONEOK Boathouse are free for the public to see through June 27.