The Kinsey Collection at Houston Holocaust Museum

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I first met Bernard and Shirley Kinsey in 2014 when The Kinsey Collection was displayed at the Houston Museum of American American Culture.

I was impressed by their commitment to preserving our culture and their dedication to making our presence known in all aspects of American history.

Bernard and Shirley Kinsey, 2002, Oil on Canvas, Artis Lane – Courtesy of The Kinsey African American Art & History Collection

“At first, we were focused on supporting Black artists and educating our son about our history and culture,” says Bernard Kinsey. “But over the years, as the collection grew, we realized the huge cultural significance these items had not just for African Americans, but for all Americans to better understand our shared history.”

The Kinsey Collection

We did not come to America because it was a better place.
We came and made it a better place.

Numbering over 40,000 pieces today, The Kinsey Collection has been viewed by more than 16 million people in 35 cities worldwide. Items from the collection have been shown at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History in Washington D.C. as well as museums and cultural institutions in Los Angeles (including SoFi Stadium), EPCOT Walt Disney World, and the University of Hong Kong Museum and Gallery.

With items dating from as early as 1595, The Kinsey Collection contains a wide range of pieces that reflect the diverse contributions of African Americans spanning over 400 years of American history. 

“Documents and artifacts may be old, but the stories they tell still have power,” says Shirley Kinsey. “We’re proud we can share these stories and this history with the world.”

The Myth of Absence

Bernard Kinsey often speaks of The Myth of Absence which refers to the idea that contributions made by African Americans in industry, art, science, and politics have been omitted from history books.  

Shirley and Bernard Kinsey the Kinsey Collection at Holocaust Museum Houston
Shirley and Bernard Kinsey at Holocaust Museum Houston

“Black Americans are invisible presences in American history and life,” Bernard Kinsey says. They are not seen because of the presence of a myth that requires their absence.” 

The Kinsey Collection aims to change this narrative by telling the stories of Black Americans’ contributions to this country and the world. 

From 19th-century slavery artifacts to monographs from the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the Kinsey Collection offers visitors a panoramic view of Black Americans’ trials and triumphs.

“You can examine a slave bill of sale from 1850, then see the Emancipation Proclamation signed by Abraham Lincoln just ten years later,” explains Bernard Kinsey. “History truly comes alive when you make those personal connections.”

The Kinsey Collection at Holocaust Museum Houston

The Kinsey Collection is currently on display until June 23, 2024, at Holocaust Museum Houston.

This is a fitting location for the exhibition because the museum is charged with educating students and the public about the dangers of prejudice and hatred in society.

Their mission is to build a more humane society by promoting responsible individual behavior, cultivating civility, and pursuing social justice.

The artifacts in this exhibition include masterful paintings and sculptures, photographs, rare books, letters, manuscripts and that offer a well-rounded look at the Black experience and provide new perspectives on the nation’s history and culture. This exhibit also features new pieces from local artists.

Sculptures on display at The Kinsey Collection at Holocaust Museum Houston

Bernard Kinsey gave our group a personal tour of the exhibit and shared commentary on each piece. I really enjoyed the section on the Harlem Renaissance.

It was gratifying to see people from all backgrounds make personal connections with their history through the artifacts. 

After viewing The Kinsey Collection for the second time, I not only gained greater insight into Black history but I also learned lessons about courage and determination that apply to all people regardless of race or background.

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