Danny Lyon, American (b. 1942). SNCC workers outside the funeral for girls killed at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church: Emma Bell, Dorie Ladner, Dona Richards, Sam Shirah and Doris Derby, Birmingham, 1963. Gelatin silver print (printed 2002–2008), 9 x 13 1/4 inches capture a moment in Civil Rights Movement. Image courtesy of Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
KANSAS CITY, MO., – The role artists and musicians played in the civil rights struggle is the focus of an art exhibition at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Titled History & Hope: Celebrating the Civil Rights Movement, the show brings together13 works in various media highlighting the civil right movement timeline. Included in the show are photographs, drawings, and prints that recognize the contribution artists and musicians made in the struggle for equality, racial harmony and social justice.
History & Hope celebrates the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington in August 1963. Created in collaboration with the American Jazz Museum, the Black Archives, and the Nelson-Atkins, History & Hope showcases works that reflect the concerns of artists and musicians about the struggle for human equality and racial harmony, as well as how the civil right movement continues to shape today’s movement.
Since it opened, visitors to the exhibition, especially those that grew up in the Civil Right era have continued to reminiscent on the overwhelming events of the civil rights movement. Sly James, Mayor of Kansas City, for instance, talked about his personal experiences growing up as a black man in Kansas City after seeing some of the photographs on display. Bob Kendrick, President of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum shared the story and experience of baseball players during the civil rights struggle. He spoke glowingly about the players like Rube Foster, Satchel Paige, Cool Papa Bell, Ernie Banks and Jackie Robinson, illuminating the hurdles they encountered during the eras of the segregated leagues and when the league was eventually integrated with Major League Baseball. Mayor Sly James’s comment and those by other community members highlight one of the major ideas behind the exhibition. “We all decided that conversation about these works of art would add an enormous depth to this exhibition,” said Sonié Joi Thompson-Ruffin, visiting curator at the American Jazz Museum.
The focused exhibition goes to the past to re-present the struggles the people went through in their quest for racial equality. Julián Zugazagoitia, Director & CEO of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art notes that the museum’s collection “allows us to reflect on the past so we are better able to build our common future.” One of the photographs in the exhibition taken by Danny Lyon, American (b. 1942), captures SNCC workers outside the funeral of Emma Bell, Dorie Ladner, Dona Richards, Sam Shirah and Doris Derby, girls who were killed in the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bomb explosion in Birmingham, Alabama.
The curatorial focus on how the civil rights movement shaped and continues to inform the thinking of artists and musicians strategically bridges the past and the present. Built into that narrative is the election of the first African American president. The exhibition which has become a conversational piece has continued to generate interest in Kansas City and outside. A response station at the show gives visitors the opportunity to express their feelings and memories of the Civil Rights Movement facts. “It was important to gather the rich and very personal memories of those who have been touched by the civil rights movement,” notes Dr. Delia Gillis, a history professor at the University of Central Missouri and board member of the Black Archives of Mid-America in Kansas City.