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 interpreters of narrative representations of the African- American experience. While aspects of social justice are found throughout, the exhibition goes beyond providing a look into the struggles of African Americans. This exhibition celebrates the complex and diverse African-American experience through a lens intended for children and young readers.
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. First is an introspective need for self validation and the creation of positive role models for young African Americans. Second is to introduce the African-American experience to those who are unfamiliar with it in order to better understand the cultural, historical and social constructs of African-American identity.
African-American children’s picture books are a relatively recent literary genre, yet one that consists of an incredibly rich tapestry of people and narratives that covers many generations and historical epochs. Not every historical figure or landmark event could be represented in this exhibition. In developing this exhibition, more than 600 books were reviewed. Presented here is a sampling of artworks featured in nearly 100 of those books that collectively help tell a people’s story.