Bernard & Shirley Kinsey: Lessons in African-American History

Bernard and Shirley Kinsey have been collecting African-American artifacts and art for 28 years. Now they are talking to America. Photo: Bernard and Shirley Kinsey: The adventure continues (wfae.org)

CHARLOTTE, N.C., September 13, 2013 — Bernard Kinsey is truly a man for all seasons. He is a philanthropist, philosopher, successful retired business executive, world traveler, historian, art collector, entrepreneur and, most of all, a dedicated outspoken advocate for education in the African-American community, especially its youth.

Since 2007, Bernard and his wife of 42-years, Shirley, have been touring their collection of African-American art, documents and manuscripts throughout the country including the Smithsonian Museum and Walt Disneyworld. For 28 years the Kinseys have been acquiring their artifacts and memorabilia, making it one of the largest private collections of its kind in the world. Now they are sharing it with a positive message that offers unknown and little known insights into African-American contributions to the American narrative from 1600 to the present.

The collection is currently being shown in Charlotte, N.C. at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts and Culture before continuing its journey around the country. More than three million people have viewed it since the tour began. The current exhibition runs until October 12, 2013. 

The year 2013 is particularly significant for the Kinseys and their collection because it is the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation as well the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech at the March on Washington in 1963.

The Kinseys emphasize two themes in their presentations: repairing a “hole in the heart” of black people and refuting the “Myth of Absence.”

Black soldiers at Camp William Penn (The Kinsey Collection)

Says Bernard Kinsey, “Many people believe that blacks did not participate in historical events that shaped our country. In other words we were invisibly present. That’s a myth. I have the documentation and art to prove it.”

So powerful has the Kinsey’s message become that The Kinsey Collection book has been added to the Florida Department of Education for African-American curriculum as a text for students in grades K-12 throughout the state.

The Kinsey’s purpose is not to incite anger or cries of injustice, but neither do they ignore facts as they occurred throughout history. As Bernard puts it, “I want our people to receive an accurate portrayal of what our brothers have accomplished and to be proud of our heritage.”

Bernard and Shirley believe many blacks are ashamed of their history due to lack of knowledge of who they really are and where they are from. One of the Kinsey’s most cherished possessions is a 1963 letter from Malcolm X to Alex Haley, the author of Roots, two years before Malcolm X was assassinated.

The Kinsey presentation is a mix of humor, poignant photographs, philosophical thought provoking questions, and a heavy dose of non-trivial trivia.

The Kinseys talk about Harriet Jacobs, who is known as the “American Anne Frank.” As a runaway slave she wrote her biography in 1862 telling the story of hiding in an attic for seven years to avoid a vicious slave holder.

They speak of Jimmy Winkfield, the black jokey who rode winning horses in the Kentucky Derby in 1901 and 1902. Between 1870 and 1885 nearly 10,000 of the 38,000 cowboys in the Southwestern U.S. were African-Americans. Bernard gets a chuckle when he says, “We were the cowboys and the others were the cowmen.” His message is hauntingly clear.

Re-discovering American history (The Kinsey Collection)

Among the Kinseys’ other treasures is the book Ioannis Leonis Africani Africae which is believed to be the first book on Africa written by an author of African descent. It was published in 1632.

The Kinseys’ personal history is as interesting as the African-American culture they embrace. Brandon enjoys telling audiences that “I met Shirley in the 1960s just after she got out of jail.”

Both were active participants in the civil rights movement during the 60s and the Kinseys’ first encounter was the result of a peaceful protest at that time.

Today Bernard is the president and founder of KBK Enterprises, Inc., a management consulting firm, providing advice to senior-level executives. During Bernard’s 20-year career with Zerox Corporation during, he was a pioneer in breaking down racial barriers in corporate America.

He is justifiably proud of the role he played in the Rebuild L.A. project after the civil unrest in 1992. Kinsey’s efforts with RLA generated more than $380 million in investments from the private sector of Los Angeles.

Bernard happily lets everyone know that he retired 22-years ago at the age of 47. “It’s great,” he says, “I highly recommend it.” Throughout his career Bernard has lived his life based upon two simple ideas: “To whom much is given, much is required” and “Living a life of no regrets.”

Today, Bernard and Shirley Kinsey speak passionately to the African-American community, especially its young people, through words, deeds and their collection of evidence of the contributions blacks have made to the story of America.

Their accomplishments and endeavors speak for themselves. Their travels have taken them to 94 countries. Each journey has been a lesson in personal growth and global understanding.

Now they are sharing what they have learned and collected as they travel the world in search of their heritage.

Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe. Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com).  

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Bob Taylor

Bob Taylor has been travel writer for more than three decades. Following a career as an award winning sports producer/anchor, Taylor’s media production business produced marketing presentations for Switzerland Tourism, Rail Europe, the Finnish Tourist Board, Japan Railways Group, the Swedish Travel & Tourism Council and the Swiss Travel System among others. He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com) and his goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.

 

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