When Bernard and Shirley Kinsey failed to answer questions about their family’s genealogy for their son’s third-grade history class, the Los Angeles couple embarked on a mission to learn more. “We knew instantly that we needed to do more work on our own,” Bernard Kinsey told The Root. “From that situation, we decided that we would learn more about the African-American story. That led us to books by [historian] John Hope Franklin and [author, historian and former executive editor of Ebony magazine] Lerone Bennett Jr. It’s been a 30-year love affair that I have now with history.”

It also marked the beginning of what is now known as “the Kinsey Collection,” a touring exhibit that contains a world-class collection of art and artifacts chronicling African-American history and culture dating back to the 1600s, including an early copy of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Wells Fargo is promoting a tour of the collection that is showing now at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum in Baltimore and will be on display until March 2, 2014. The tour officially launched during Black History Month at the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco before moving to the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture in Charlotte, N.C.

“The thing I wanted to know then is how did we get in this predicament in America, where black folks were being treated the way we were being treated?” Bernard Kinsey said. “The other question was, how did we become black in America? Those kinds of questions began to inform me about what I wanted to know more of. What we decided to do was not just read it and do a flat-page history like most historians; we decided to go out and get the documents that represent the historical records. That’s basically what we’ve done.”


Here are just a few of the items included in the tour of the exhibit.

U.S. Soldiers at Camp William Penn, 1863, Supervisory Committee for Recruiting Colored Regiments  

Chromolithograph (the Kinsey Collection) 


Blacks were banned from military combat until late 1862, despite pleas and petitions demanding that they be included in the war effort. Once the ban was lifted, after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, black leaders, including Frederick Douglass, encouraged blacks to join the fight for full citizenship. The Bureau of Colored Troops was formed to recruit and register black volunteers for the Union Army. About 180,000 blacks served as Union soldiers during the Civil War. This is one of the first recruiting posters used to promote black service.

The Cultivators, 2000, Samuel L. Dunson Jr.  

The Kinsey Collection


Portrait Bust of an African, 1899-1900, May Howard Jackson  

Original bronze cast of slave boy (the Kinsey Collection)

Born of middle-class means in Philadelphia, Jackson was influential in American sculpture and African-American artistic pedagogy.


Young Girl, Circa 1855  

The Kinsey Collection

The photographer is unknown.

Falling Star, 1979, Romare Bearden 

Lithograph (the Kinsey Collection)


Bearden once described the beauty of black women as one of his most important subjects. He depicted black women alone in thought, in domestic settings or in gardens, with their families, as mothers, as singers onstage and as lovers and nudes.

The Boss, 2006, Bisa Butler  

Quilted cotton appliqué (the Kinsey Collection)


Butler created this quilt using early-20th-century icons of Americana, such as Aunt Jemima, and other brands that used black bodies in advertising, to symbolize the lasting effect of the commodification of African-American imagery and labor.

Inside Out Series, Circa 1986, Richard Hunt  

Cast bronze (the Kinsey Collection)


Chicagoan Hunt was the youngest artist to exhibit in the major international survey exhibition of modern art at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair.

Poems on Various Subjects—Religious and Moral, 1773, Phillis Wheatley 

The Kinsey Collection


This is an original copy of her book. 

The Dancer, 1937, Richmond Barthé  

Bronze (the Kinsey Collection)


White real estate developer William Harmon was a major, though unlikely, supporter of the Harlem Renaissance. His Harmon Foundation celebrated black achievement in the arts and sciences through nationwide competitions and traveling exhibitions documented with catalogs such as these. Barthé was a recipient of the Harmon Foundation Award.

Bernard and Shirley Kinsey, 2002, by Artis Lane 

Oil on canvas (the Kinsey Collection) 


A descendant of renowned abolitionist Mary Ann Shadd, Lane received a scholarship to attend the Ontario College of Art and was the first black woman admitted to Cranbrook Art Academy. She began her career as a portraitist, depicting dignitaries such as Gov. George Romney, Nelson Mandela, Gordon Getty, Ronald Reagan and Barbara Bush. Lane was commissioned by friends of the Kinseys to paint this portrait, which was given as a gift to the couple on their 35th anniversary.