Stunned. That word describes my reaction to the exhibit at Miami University’s Art Museum titled “Telling a People’s Story: African American Children’s Illustrated Literature.” Museum hours are Tuesday – Friday 10:00-5:00, Saturday Noon-5:00. The exhibit runs until June 30.
You’ll be edified to learn how much quality children’s picture books are out there on so many topics of the African American experience. The exhibition is joyous, devastating, instructive, and triumphant. You’ll see the indelible moment when Rosa Parks was ordered off the bus.
You’ll see the cover illustration of a story you may not know. I didn’t. A book about an African American man who was a double agent for George Washington during the Revolutionary War. You’ll see a water color of Jackie Robinson stealing home.
I said that part of the exhibition was devastating. There was picture, part realistic, part surreal—an aerial view through the upper decks of a slave ship to its hold where newly kidnapped Africans were crammed for the middle passage. The surreal, haunting part was the just discernible background.
One of my favorite paintings was of Joe Louis in the ring after a bout, his hand raised in victory. I showed a number of the illustrations from the exhibit to my undergraduates. None knew Joe Louis. One student thought that Louis was Muhammad Ali. So I got to give a brief history lesson of Joe Louis knocking out German boxer Max Schmeling in the first round of their 1938 fight to retain his heavyweight crown. All citizens of our country rallied around the victory. Joe Louis had put the lie to Hitler’s vision of white supremacy.
I thank Jason E. Shaiman, Miami Art Museum curator of exhibitions. I thank Dr. Brenda Dales of the Teacher Education Department who provided her expertise in children’s literature to this exhibition committee. I hope you have the opportunity to visit this stunning exhibition.