|Khalil, Shirley and Bernard Kinsey at Epcot Exhibit Opening in March // All photos by Disney |
A recent visit to the new Kinsey Collection exhibit of African-American art and artifacts at the American Experience pavilion in Epcot confirms this as an entertaining, shared experience in U.S. history that deserves to be seen by every park visitor. “Rediscovering America: The Kinsey Collection” will strike those who visit as an attraction worthy of far more visibility than is likely possible amid the quantity of new Disney attractions that will draw vacationers to central Florida this summer.
The good news is that the Kinsey Collection, with at least 40 historic pieces on display at any given time on a rotating basis from over 400 in the original collection housed in southern California, will be in residence at Epcot for the next three-to-five years. There will be time for Disney returning guests to still savor the collection if they miss it on their first visit.
The collection is the life work of Bernard Kinsey, a retired Xerox executive and self-taught art historian, and his wife Shirley Kinsey, a retired high school English teacher. They were assisted in their successful presentation of their works at Epcot by their son Khalil Kinsey, the Vice President of Operations for the Kinsey Collection. The artifacts were most recently on display at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, but have never had their own home for extended showing as they will have at Epcot’s American Experience.
|Actor James Pickens Jr. of "Grey's Anatomy" is a Kinsey Collection narrator.|
|Kinsey Collection artifacts of scholar, actor and activist Paul Robeson.|
The exhibit is divided into five themed sections, including Hope, Courage, Belief, Imagination and Heritage. Here is just a sample of the remarkable works on display that had immediate impact and educational value for this viewer, who confesses prior ignorance of many enlightening things learned in the American Experience art gallery.
• A copy of the 1832 Bill of Sale for slave William Johnson for $500. A reading of the document makes tangible to the viewer the reality that human beings in this country were once property bought and sold.
• An original copy of “Poems on Various Subjects Religious and Moral” by former slave Phillis Wheatley. Printed in London, this was the first book published by an African-American author.
• An 1871 photo of Congressman John Wall of Florida, who in 1871 was the first former slave to defeat a former slave owner in being elected to Congress.
• A photo of explorer Matthew Henson, a member of the first team to reach the North Pole with Admiral Robert Peary in 1910. There is also an original publication of Henson’s 1912 memoir book, “A Negro Explorer at the North Pole.”
• A copy of the 1918 Croix de Guerre awarded to the Harlem Hellfighters, a segregated unit of the U.S. Army, who were officially honored for their World War I combat bravery by the French government.
• An 1889 U.S. marching flag of the famed Buffalo soldiers, who were given their name by the native Americans because of their bravery likened to the American buffalo herds of the western plains. We learn that 23 Buffalo soldiers earned the Congressional Medal of Honor and that their first commanding officer, Henry Flipper, in 1877 became the first African-American to graduate from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
• We learn about Paul Robson, who attended Columbia University while teaching high school Latin and playing pro football in the American Pro Football League, now the NFL, before he became a movie star.
|1928 autobiography of cycling champion Marshall Taylor and Civil War recruiting poster.|
This overview scratches the surface of the many other pieces to discover in this historic collection, but none is more impressive that the information provided about the Kinsey family’s own personal history. Shirley Kinsey was a Florida A&M freshman student who was arrested in 1963 during a civil rights protest in Tallahassee. One of the upper classman who was sent to pick up Shirley and the other student protesters from jail was Bernard Kinsey. The couple was married four years later. We also learn that Bernard Kinsey’s father, U.B. Kinsey, was a school principal in West Palm Beach, FL. The school that now bears his name is U.B. Kinsey – Palmview Elementary School.
Most remarkably, we learn that the elder Kinsey fought for equal rights for African-American students His efforts included leading support for a lawsuit extending the school year for African-American students to nine months from six months so that their education would not be shortened by time requiring them to work as farmhands during each school year. The case was argued and won by lawyer Thurgood Marshall, who went on to become the first African-American Supreme Court Justice.
The Kinsey Collection is enriching, energizing history that cannot be recommended enough. Thanks must go to the Kinseys and to Disney for bringing these works to Epcot. Parents who teach their children a life lesson by bringing them to see the Jackie Robinson biographical film “42” this year can make the educational experience even more indelible by following up their family trip to the movies with a visit to Epcot to see the Kinsey Collection.