Now through June 20, Mississippi State University is hosting the collection’s first visit to the Magnolia State as “African American Treasures” opens in the John Grisham Room at Mitchell Memorial Library. The Kinsey family–Bernard and Shirley, as well as their son Khalil–are visiting the campus for the exhibit opening.
The Kinsey Collection showcases more than 400 years of the achievements and accomplishments of African Americans in America. The Kinseys allow parts of their private collection to tour the United States because they want to expand people’s understanding of American history.
“What we’re doing is showing that African American history is American history,” Shirley says. “We’re sharing part of the complete history of America by sharing our collection. This is an uplifting history that motivates, inspires and educates. We don’t put aside slavery, but we don’t dwell on it, either.”
Bernard, former vice president of Xerox Corp., and Shirley, a former teacher, first began the collection in the mid-1980s when Khalil brought home a third-grade homework assignment to research his family history.
When the Kinseys, both Florida A&M graduates, couldn’t trace their family roots past their grandparents, they began acquiring art and manuscript pieces to fill the gaps, not only in their own family history, but in African American culture as a whole.
“The Kinsey Collection is the historical record of Africans in America beginning in 1595,” Bernard explains. “What The Kinsey Collection does is put the ‘African’ in the story of American history. This is the story of a people who did so much with so little, and this collection begins to fill in the blanks, trying to give those people a voice, a personality and a name.”
As Bernard and Shirley’s son Khalil grew older and his parents’ collection expanded, his friends looked forward to visiting his home to see the collection, he says. They would ask questions, and the next time they visited, they would bring friends to introduce them to the art and history that was opening their eyes at the Kinsey home.
The collection grew and knowledge of it spread; then museums began reaching out to the Kinseys to request the opportunity to showcase pieces. The collection has since traveled all over the United States, but the closest it had come to the Magnolia State, before the Mississippi State exhibition, is Houston and Atlanta.
“It’s been remarkable. All kinds of people–white, black, Cuban, Latina, Jewish, all different races and ethnicities–are just stunned to learn about American history through the achievements and accomplishments of African Americans,” Bernard says. “Then you have the administration at Mississippi State, and we applaud (MSU Libraries) Dean Frances Coleman and (African American Studies Director) Dr. Stephen Middleton for their leadership in bringing the collection to Mississippi State.
“We want to make sure this works for the cities of Mississippi,” he continues.
Middleton first heard Bernard and Shirley speak in Jacksonville, Florida, and he knew immediately that the collection should come to Mississippi State. He drove to Atlanta to see the pieces displayed there, and he opened the conversation with Coleman to bring The Kinsey Collection to Mississippi State.
She reached out to people, organizations, and supporters all over the state; Coleman even lobbied–successfully–to extend the collection’s stay at MSU from one month to three.
Based on the consistent positive feedback the Kinseys have received on the collection, the Kinseys are looking forward to an equally positive response at Mississippi State.
“This is our chance to reach an entirely different audience,” Bernard says. “When I came to Mississippi State for the first time in December 2014, I saw it would be a great place. Dean Coleman and her team are just outstanding.
“We want to reach these young people who come from a different place; it’s a different generation, a different community, and we want to impart this wisdom, this history of African Americans in America,” Bernard says.
In addition to the display at Mitchell Memorial Library, Mississippi State’s campus bookstore, Barnes & Noble at MSU, is selling “The Kinsey Collection: Shared Treasures of Bernard and Shirley Kinsey Where Art and History Intersect,” an award-winning curriculum for African American history in Florida. The 2013 book includes information about each piece on display at Mississippi State, as well as many others.
“African American Treasures” is made possible by the MSU Libraries, African American Studies at MSU and grants from Visit Mississippi, Greater Starkville Development Partnership and the Mississippi Humanities Council, through support from the Mississippi Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this exhibition do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities or the Mississippi Humanities Council.
Discover more about “African American Treasures” from The Kinsey Collection at MSU by visiting library.msstate.edu/kinsey. More information about the Kinseys, The Kinsey Collection and its history is available at www.thekinseycollection.com.
By Leah Barbour