Kinsey Collection makes a direct connection
by Mark Hinson, Tallahassee Democrat
The letter was written April 3, 1854, but its emotional punch is still as powerful 155 years later.
It was penned by a slave-owner named A.M.F. Crawford, sealed and given to a 17-year-old chambermaid named Frances, who was a slave. She was told to deliver it to a fellow by the name of Dickerson. He was a slave trader.
“She does not know that she is to be sold,” Crawford wrote to Dickerson. “I could not tell her; I own all her family and the leave taking would be so distressing that I could not. Please say to her that that was my reason, and that I was compelled to sell her to pay for the horses that I have bought, and to build my stable.”
The antebellum letter is now called “A slave carrying her fate in her hands” and is included in the new exhibit “The Kinsey Collection: Shared Treasures of Bernard and Shirley Kinsey” that opens Friday at The Mary Brogan Museum of Art and Science. The show features more than 100 artifacts, documents, paintings, sculptures, rare books and other ephemera that focus on the black American experience.
“These are the kinds of stories we strive to tell with our collection,” avid art collector Bernard Kinsey said Tuesday morning at the Brogan. “This is the history they didn’t teach you in high school.
“We want them all to come to life for the people who visit. This is the real history — not ‘his story.’ ”
“The Kinsey Collection,” which has been shown in Chicago and Palm Beach, will travel to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., in the fall of 2010. It’s being displayed in Tallahassee because the Kinseys met and married when they were students at Florida A&M University in the early and mid-’60s. Even though the Kinseys now live across the country in Los Angeles, they have kept close ties to FAMU and have helped raise millions of dollars for the university over the decades.
“There has been a Kinsey enrolled at FAMU for the past 50 years,” Kinsey said. “Tallahassee is a real sweet spot for Shirley and I. We have deep, deep roots here.”
Kinsey, who grew up in West Palm Beach, tailored the Tallahassee installment of the collection to reflect their strong Florida ties.
It includes a spotlight on the overlooked Josiah T. Walls, who was the first black Congressman from Florida during Reconstruction. He later ran the farm at Florida Normal College, which was the forerunner of FAMU. When Walls died in Tallahassee in 1905 during the Jim Crow era, no newspaper acknowledged his passing by running an obituary.
“There wasn’t another (black) representative (to Congress) until, I believe, Alcee Hastings — who was a roommate of mine at FAMU,” Kinsey said.
A collection of personal letters from Florida writer and folklorist Zora Neale Hurston is also on display. The letters find Hurston in a typically feisty and reflective mood: “The world is to the strong regardless of a little pigmentation more or less. No, I do not weep at the world — I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife.”
“She grew up in (exclusively black) Eatonville really believing she was a princess,” Kinsey said. “She was a friend of Shirley’s uncle and they wrote to each other.”
Visitors to The Kinsey Collection will also find art by the famed Jacob Lawrence, an original printing of the Emancipation Proclamation from 1862, a flag carried by the Buffalo Soldiers in 1889, correspondence between Malcolm X and Alex Haley, and much more, including an insurance policy written to cover the cost of slaves.
“Frances (the chambermaid) is on the (insurance) document,” Kinsey said. “We felt that was an important connection (to point out). There are all kinds of connections running throughout the show.”
Audio-guided tours — featuring readings by such stars as Angela Bassett and Dennis Haysbert — are available at the museum. The exhibit is on display through March 21.