“Black Power!” – The Exhibit at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture

Exhibits are powerful pieces of memory that normally combine the use of artifacts and pictures to create a visual aspect of a memory that helps keep an event or thing in the consciousness of the public.

The “Black Power!” Exhibit at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture is located in Harlem, New York and is curated by Dr. Sylviane A. Diouf.

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“Yet Black Power is one of the least understood movements in the country, its achievements largely dismissed or minimized. Perceived mostly as a violent episode that followed the non-violent civil rights movement, the Black Power has been eclipsed in the general public’s memory by the former,  even though it has shaped issues of identity, politics, criminal justice, culture, art, and education for the past half century. And, not to be forgotten, following in the Black Power’s footsteps, American Indian, American Asian, Latino, LGBT, and women groups affirmed themselves and demanded change. To understand  African American history, and ultimately American society today, it is imperative to understand the depth and breadth, and the achievements and failures of the Black Power Movement.” – Dr. Sylviane A. Diouf

Harlem is a great place to showcase the exhibit for many reasons. The exhibit is located in Manhattan, New York, which has a major tourist industry so it allows for the possibility of a great number of people to be able to view the exhibit. Harlem is also a great location because it is steeped in the culture of African Americans, specifically during the 1920’s and the 1930’s during the Harlem Renaissance which was a “literary, artistic, and intellectual movement that kindled a new black cultural identity.” African American history pervades the history of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and the center serves as a powerful site of memory regarding the Black Power Movement and other movements as well. The center actually played a large role in the Harlem Renaissance and served as a gathering place for many African Americans of different professions like artists, and writers, and even for activists. The “Black Power!” exhibit is located in the main hall which at one point housed the American Negro Theater, a WPA Writers Project, and lecture hall for notable African Americans like W.E.B. DuBois.

“Through the arts, the Black Power Movement was able to spread the word in a nonviolent way, reaching an audience that transcended class and ethnic lines.” -AFineLyne

Like with art, the Black Power movement was an attempt for African Americans to fight for their self-determination. These different artistic elements are incorporated into the exhibit. 

“Thorough art Negro life is seizing its first chances for group expression and self-determination.” — Alain Locke in 1926

One of the main purposes of this exhibit was to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the movement.

“A host of historic photographs and memorabilia have been assembled for the exhibition, showing the generations-spanning scope the Black Power model, conceptualized in 1966 by Stokley Carmichael and Willie Ricks, members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, known popularly by its acronym SNCC.” – McCallister

The “Black Power!” exhibit takes the visitor through a chronological history of the Black Power Movement which begins in 1966 and not only includes photos, but videos and written artifacts as well like newspapers and books.

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“Exhibits explore the growth of the Movement inside the prison system, and grassroots organizing in poor communities throughout the country, and beyond.” – AFineLyne

The exhibit not only celebrates African American members of the Black Power Movement but features a Black Panther Coalition Flyer that included members of other races and ethnicities like the Puebpowerrto Rican Young Lords, the white Young Patriots, the Chinese-American I Work Kuen, and the Inmates Liberation Front. This diverse group of people rallied together behind members of the Black Panther Party who were known as the Panther 21. This subset of the Black Panther Party was arrested and acquitted for suspicion of the plan to place bombs in different sites in New York City. Angela Davis was a powerful ally to the Black Panther Party and a member of The Arab Women’s League of Jordan. Throughout her career Davis has fought for the rights of prisoners across color lines. The exhibit features a letter of support to Davis which shows the unity created from the Black Power movement which spanned across color lines.

“A two-part digital exhibition titled “Black Power 50” started in February 2016, in partnership with Google Cultural Institute. Since then, the Schomburg’s continuing Black Power commemoration has included public programs featuring Black Power movement leaders, such as Kathleen Cleaver, Bobby Seale, and Iris Morales, and Black Arts Movement luminaries Nikki Giovanni, Askia Touré, and Sonia Sanchez. The new exhibition’s catalog Black Power 50 has also been released.” – McCallister

The exhibit also features prominent examples of resistance against the Black Power Movement by law enforcement and the FBI and includes quotes like, “The Black Panther Party, without question, represents the greatest threat to internal security of the country.” J. Edgar Hoover, June 15, 1969. Often people think that the Black Panther Party was an extremely violent militarized group but this is often a misconception spurred by those on the opposing side, like some FBI members, of the movement to delegitimize the movement.  The Black Panther party actually created many program to enrich the lives of many members of the African American community.  For example, one of the great programs that the Black Panther Party created was a breakfast program to make sure that kids did not go to school without eating. Therefore, the “Black Power!” Exhibit showcases a different angle of the Black Power Movement and allows for different voices to be heard about what the movement and the Black Panther Party really were. This is great because often one narrative is told about the Black Power Movement, but this exhibit really sheds light on many aspects of the movement, like the rich artistic aspects that flowed from the movement, that normally would be left out by a dominant narrative. 

The street where the center and exhibit is located is called “Malcolm X Boulevard”. Malcolm X was an extremely prominent advocate of the Black Power movement, therefore the fact that the “Black Power!” exhibit is located on this street is very powerful. 

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It is difficult to describe all of the different things that are featured in the exhibit without actually visiting the and to describe it one must rely on the stories and encounters that others have had. Therefore, it is almost impossible to describe what all is forgotten with the “Black Power!” Exhibit in Harlem because without a first-hand experience of the exhibit.

Isissa Komada-John, Exhibitions Manager at the Schomburg Center, speaks about the “Black Power!” Exhibit.

In the video below, Isissa Komada-John argues that the “Black Power!” Exhibit comes at a perfect time because of the current activism that is working through the Black Lives Matter Movement. Komada-John argues that the Black Lives Matter Movement of the 21st Century is a parallel to the Black Power Movement and that each movement is somewhat in relation to violence and brutality by members of law enforcement. The “Black Power!” Exhibit does a great job at looking at almost every aspect of the Black Power Movement, but actually does not really seem to have as much about the future of the movement and the Black Lives Matter Movement but rather more the history of the Black Power Movement.

Sources for Information, Images, and Quotes: 

AFineLyne. “Black Power! on Exhibit at The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.” untapped cities. 21 Feb. 2017. Web. 18 Apr. 2017. <http://untappedcities.com/2017/02/21/black-power-on-exhibit-at-the-schomburg-center-for-research-in-black-culture/>.

Biography.com Editors. “Angela Davis.” Biography. 27 May 2016. Web. 18 Apr. 2017. <http://www.biography.com/people/angela-davis-9267589>.

BRIC TV. “Black Power Exhibition at The Schomburg Center | BK Live.” Youtube. 29 Feb. 2016. Web. 18 Apr. 2017. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NeTW9IkELL8>.

Cotter, Holland. “In ‘Black Power!,’ Art’s Political Punch and Populist Reach.” The New York Times. 6 Apr. 2017. Web. 18 Apr. 2017. <https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/06/arts/design/in-black-power-arts-political-punch-and-populist-reach.html?_r=0>.

Diouf, Sylviane. “Black Power!” New York Public Library. 5 Feb. 2016. Web. 18 Apr. 2017. <https://www.nypl.org/blog/2016/02/05/black-power>.

Foner, Eric, and John A Garraty. “Harlem Renaissance.” History. Web. 18 Apr. 2017. <http://www.history.com/topics/black-history/harlem-renaissance>.

McCallister, Jared. “Black Power Exhibit at Schomburg Center in Harlem Allows Visitors to Experience the Impactful Movement.” New York Daily News. 10 Feb. 2017. Web. 18 Apr. 2017. <http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/manhattan/harlem-black-power-exhibit-lets-visitors-experience-movement-article-1.2967946>.