Museum

When I look around the museum today, I am completely amazed at all the changes that have taken place since the beginning of the year.

The third phase of our renovation of the museum was completed this week, and I could not be happier. The updated American Indian Gallery, the Children’s Discovery Room and two artifact collection storage rooms are complete. Thank you Beard + Riser — John Beard and Christina Buchanan — and David Smith Construction and all of his crew, the Mississippi Arts Commission, the city of Greenwood, Leflore County, Staplcotn and private donations for funding the renovation. Thank you to the Junior Auxiliary of Greenwood for funding the upcoming interactive playroom activities that will open later in the spring. And, thank you to the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area for funding the upcoming new exhibits in the Native American Gallery that will open in the fall.

I would never have imagined the renovation and the incoming traveling exhibition would be back to back, but here we are.

“For All the World to See: Visual Culture and the Struggle for Civil Rights” is opening Thursday.

This is the second exhibit we have booked from Mid-America Arts Alliance and the National Endowment for Humanities “On the Road” program, the first one being “The Power of Children: Making a Difference” that came in 2016.

“For All the World to See” traces how African-Americans were represented both positively and negatively in the cultural mainstream from the 1940s through the 1970s. Some of the black images are iconic, including Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver, Bessie Smith and Martin Luther King Jr. We also have a list of demonized figures, too, including “the Scottsboro Boys” and Malcolm X.

Maurice Berger curated this exhibit and wrote the catalog for this vital and important work. He takes us on a journey through the development of both the narrow field of African-American icons and the broadly influential legacy of blackface and other stereotypical imagery. He explores the modern visual myths of blackness and the ways in which African-Americans publicly and privately responded and resisted.

The exhibit uses photojournalism, advertising, film and television to develop the themes. Many of images will be familiar as will be the music. There are more than 20 clips from the “Ed Sullivan Show,” featuring many of the mainstream artists of the day who were applauded by black and white audiences, including Marvin Gaye, The Supremes, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, and others.

There are some difficult images to be sure. But these images are necessary to evoke an emotion, I believe, to empower us to not let this type of prejudice and unconscious bias have life in our communities. You will learn something new in this exhibit, I promise you.

For example, I was completely unaware of “The Doll Test” conducted in 1947 by sociologist Dr. Kenneth Clark and his wife Dr. Mamie Clark. In the test, the Clarks asked African-American grade school children a series of questions to test their racial perceptions. When faced with the choice of a black doll or a white doll, a majority of the children preferred a white doll and assigned negative characteristics to the black one. The Clarks concluded that “prejudice, discrimination and segregation” created a feeling of inferiority among African-American children and damaged their self-esteem.

The exhibition will be accompanied by panel discussions and conversations funded by the Mississippi Humanities Council, which will begin on April 6 and continue throughout the month. A complete listing is on our website and includes author of the seminal work on Emmett Till, Devery Anderson; Dave Tell from the Emmett Till Memory Project; Turry Flucker, art historian at Tougaloo College; Dr. Robby Luckett of Jackson State University; Dr. Redell Hearn of Tougaloo College and the Mississippi Museum of Art; Scott Barretta; and more.

For more information, contact the museum at 453-0925 or email director@museumofthemississippidelta.com.

Cheryl Thornhill is the executive director of the Museum of the Mississippi Delta. Contact her at director@museumofthemississippidelta.com.

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