William Williams, Fort Pillow, TN, 1999
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture New York Public Library 515 Malcolm X Blvd at 135th Street New York, NY
October 10, 2012 – February 27, 2013
The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library presents, Visualizing Emancipation to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. Pre and post Civil War era prints, photographs, sculpture, books, newspapers, letters, coins, and documents pertaining to the experience of enslaved and freed black women, men, and children challenges long held perceptions about slavery and black Americans participation in obtaining their freedom. The Schomburg Center’s collections as well as a number of images from other New York Public Library collections and the Library of Congress, along with other public and private collections and works produced by photographers and artists in the early years of the medium and investigates how racial identity was posed and considered in photography of blacks in America during a time when rhetorical debates about black people’s humanity were in the forefront of scientific, aesthetical and popular discussions. Freedom did not arrive instantaneously with the Emancipation Proclamation (1863) or the end of the Civil War and passage of the 13th Amendment in 1865. But it unfolded over the course of decades as black Americans struggled to achieve full citizenship and make freedom meaningful. Documents and photographs on display demonstrate how community members celebrated local Emancipation ceremonies and documented the convict laborer camps formed after Emancipation. These photographs and documents testify to black people’s collective resiliency and individual stories of survival but they also invoke slavery’s painful past, blurring the lines between past and present, and slavery and freedom. Contemporary scholars, writers, photographers, and artists have continued to produce works that examine the memories and meanings of black freedom in America. The works of contemporary photographers in this exhibition include those of Charles Traub, William Williams, Wendel White and Matthew Baum. These images offer another view of history and how to re-imagine the legacies of nineteenth-century battlegrounds and monuments. Some photographs symbolize the varied experiences of the black soldiers who committed their lives to the fight for black people’s freedom; while others are symbolic reminders of the archival research contemporary photographers are conducting on Union and Confederate soldiers’ monuments and the land.