Bernard and Shirley Kinsey are on a mission to re-educate Americans about American history. The Kinseys aren’t interested in the American history taught in school or the black history taught in February. In the last 46 years, the Kinseys have amassed a collection of artifacts, literature and art that chronicles the African American experience dating back to the 1600s. They use their collection to inspire, educate and motivate.
The Kinsey Collection: Shared Treasures of Bernard and Shirley Kinsey –Where Art and History Intersect exhibit will be at the Harvey B. Gantt Center June 29 – Oct. 12. The Kinsey Collection has been displayed in 10 cities and viewed by three million people, according to the Kinseys.
When the Kinseys began collecting artifacts in the ’60s, they didn’t intend to create an exhibit. Their collection didn’t start with rare pieces such as the Emancipation Proclamation or Three-Fifths Compromise. It started much humbler with sand, flowers and pinecones from America’s national parks.
The Kinseys began travelling in the mid-’60s when Bernard Kinsey worked briefly as a park ranger at the Grand Canyon. It sparked a curiosity in him, and a desire to travel. For more than a decade the Kinseys traveled to national parks. They have now visited 91 countries and six continents.
Everywhere they went the Kinseys tried to bring back a small artifact, and learn about the indigenous cultures they encountered. In doing so, the Kinseys realized they knew little about their own culture. The Kinsey Collection was born from their desire to learn more about African American culture.
The Kinseys grew up in the Florida. They were all too familiar with the history of racism and hatred that suffocated African Americans. History wasn’t something you talked about.
“You’re not running away from it, but you’re not running toward it,” Shirley Kinsey said.
That was then. Now, the Kinseys not only run toward history they fully embrace it. The Kinsey Collection includes documents, books and manuscripts such as a 1773 book of poetry by Phyllis Wheatley, and a 1796 Benjamin Banneker almanac.
Bernard Kinsey is quick to point out that the collection is inspirational.
“This not an ain’t it awful piece’,” he said. “We’re talking about how people took struggle and overcame struggle.”
It is also a testament of love between a family and it’s love for those who came before and those who will follow.