DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – February is Black History Month, and as the nation celebrates the achievements of African Americans CBS 11 went to a place where hundreds of years of Black History is gathered and displayed under one roof.
The African American Museum of Dallas — and the man who founded it — are Texas Treasures.
It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that Dr. Harry Robinson embodies African American history in Dallas. Not only was he was the driving force behind the construction of the African American Museum in Fair Park more than 25 years ago, he was responsible for it opening 20 years before that on the campus of what is now Paul Quinn College.
Robinson recently took us on a tour of the museum and its most recent exhibit: The Kinsey Collection, which he describes as a chronicle of the African American experience.
“The Kinsey Collection is probably the most comprehensive collection in private hands of African Americana,” says Robinson. “This is a combination of art and history, and if you were to view this exhibition or pick up the catalog, it’s really a history book — a textbook– of African American history.”
Among the items on display: the earliest known Black baptismal certificate — dated in 1595 from St. Augustine, Florida, a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation, slave inventories, a copy of a slave insurance policy, and a slave shackle.
“You see a lot of things, you hear a lot of things — but here you have the actual documentation of African American history. There’s no question about that shackle over there,” Robinson said pointing. “There’s no question about the Emancipation Proclamation. You can look in a (history) book, but to actually see the Emancipation Proclamation, it’s different.”
In another part of the museum is an exhibition called “Facing the Rising Sun” that Robinson explained as, “… a history of Black Dallas and what was called Short North Dallas, which is now Uptown.”
The exhibit shows what life was like 100 years ago in the heart of Dallas’ Black community…and what death was like, too. Many of the included artifacts were discovered during an excavation project in the late 1980’s, when the state was widening Central Expressway at Lemmon Avenue. The land had been a burial ground for African Americans that dated back to the Civil War.
The remains from the graveyard were re-interred, and today a memorial sits at Freedman’s Cemetery, along with about 5,000 unmarked graves. Artifacts from original graves that couldn’t be paired with specific remains were sent to the museum.
“That exhibition was supposed to be there for one year,” says Robinson. “That was in 2000. And it became so popular, we had to leave it up. And it’s a permanent exhibition now.”
As for The Kinsey Collection, it’s been on tour at museums around the world and has been seen by more than 20 million people. The display will be at the African American Museum of Dallas through the end of February.