Black Citizenship in the Age of Jim Crow, New-York Historical Society

I make it no secret that the New-York Historical Society is one of my very favorite places. They consistently have fantastic exhibits that leave me breathless, in tears, and knowing more than I did when I walked through their doors. Last autumn (October 2018) I was at the museum for their Harry Potter exhibit (more on that later) when I decided to wander the rest of the place, not knowing what other exhibits were on show. I was excited to find ‘Black Citizenship in the Age of Jim Crow’ waiting for me.

[Header image: “A Bit of War History: The Contraband; The Recruit; The Veteran” by Thomas Waterman Wood. A series of three portraits on canvas. It was on loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art for this exhibit. Learn more about this piece here.]

‘Black Citizenship in the Age of Jim Crow’ focused on the struggle for full citizenship and racial equality in the fifty years following the Civil War; through the period of Reconstruction and beyond. The exhibit marked the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the 14th Amendment. The exhibit explored voting rights extensively through the years, while also showcasing how communities were built up, and often threatened (by the KKK, and others), in the search for equality.

I was met outside the elevators by two fantastic living historians, who were teaching the public how African American children used to learn in school. I spoke with them for a little bit, asking what their favorite prop/artifacts were – they loved the school books that they’d practice penmanship in. It was a very lovely way to enter the exhibit, as it reminded me that this was in America’s not-so distant past, and affected real people. The living historians made them tangible for me and the other visitors who stopped to talk with them. It was especially moving to watch children interact with the tools children of the past would use.
(Apologies for the low quality photos below, I pulled them from my instagram page..)

I really enjoyed how much thought was put into every little detail. It wasn’t just some artifacts, paintings, documents, etc. on display – although I did love seeing these. They were supplemented with videos, interactive displays, models, and audio. Two moments that really made me choke up was when I listened to the audio recordings of a religious group and a chain-gang singing. It was a very moving learning experience, and a reminder of why I love visiting New-York Historical Society.

Plan your own visit to cry at their wonderful and thoughtful exhibits by clicking here.

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