Telling A People’s Story

Telling A People's Story

African-American Children’s Illustrated Literature

Thanks to a generous grant from the Martha Holden Jennings Foundation in Cleveland, Ohio, the Miami University Art Museum is pleased to bring the content of the original Telling A People’s Story Exhibit to Lakewood Public Library.

September 1, 2020 – October 15, 2020


Download Exhibit Catalog


Telling A People’s Story is the first major museum exhibition devoted to the art found within the pages of African-American children’s picture books. The exhibition emphasizes the strength of the illustrations as visual narrative representations of the African-American experience. While aspects of social justice are found throughout the three main galleries, the exhibition goes beyond providing a look into the struggles of African Americans. This project celebrates the complex and diverse African-American experience through a lens intended for children and young readers. The exhibition offers something for all viewers through the representation of familiar and lesser-known people and the contributions of African Americans to an American identity.

More than 600 books, and over 14,000 illustrations were reviewed during the development of this exhibition in search of a strong representation of events and milestones in African-American history. Themes and time periods include African Origins, Middle Passage, Slavery, Emancipation, Reconstruction, Harlem Renaissance, Segregation and the Civil Rights Movement. Other themes draw attention to historical figures in politics, music, sports, arts and entertainment. The selection of approximately 130 works on display includes paintings, pastels, drawings and mixed media works. Featured are more than thirty artists, spanning nearly fifty years of creativity. Collectively, the many books created by authors and illustrators since the late 19th century contribute to an understanding of the African-American experience through two perspectives:

  • An internal look into the need for validation and the creation of positive self-images
  • An introduction to the African-American experience for those unfamiliar in order to better understand the cultural, historical and social makeup of African-American identity

Many of the artworks featured in the exhibition received top honors and honorable mentions from several major literary organizations. Now under the umbrella of the American Libraries Association, the John Newbery Medal (first awarded in 1922) recognizes authors, while the Randolph Caldecott Award (first awarded in 1938) is given to illustrators. The Coretta Scott King Award (first awarded in 1970) is the third major children’s book award, created for the recognition of African-American children’s books during a time when African Americans received little attention for their work. These three awards validate the exceptional contributions of African-American authors and illustrators to the world of children’s literature.

The exhibition is presented in twelve large panels arranged chronologically as follows:

Panel 1 – Telling a People’s Story
Panel 2 – African Traditions & Storytelling
Panel 3 – The Middle Passage
Panel 4 – Slavery & the Underground Railroad
Panel 5 – Civil War Emancipation & Reconstruction
Panel 6 – Segregation
Panel 7 – Harlem Renaissance & The Great Migration
Panel 8 – The Civil Rights Era
Panel 9 – The Civil Rights Era (continued)
Panel 10 – Modern Cultural Identity
Panel 11 – Biographical Sketches
Panel 12 – Biographical Sketches (continued)

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