This essay investigates the cultural forces that shaped the development of the post 1945 founders, founding directors of African American museums and the pioneers at historically white institutions, such as the Smithsonian. All of these people were shaped by the “Negro Canon” whose principal components were the African American political and cultural activists of the earlier twentieth century such as Carter G. Woodson and Alain Locke, and their exposure to the society of “historically Black colleges and universities” (HBCUs). These experiences helped them creatively adapt to the rapidly shifting socio-political environment of the postwar era to change forever the cultural landscape of the United States.
Building Homes for Black History: Museum Founders, Founding Directors, and Pioneers, 1915–95
Fath Davis Ruffins is the Curator of African American History and Culture in the Division of Home and Community Life in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History (NMAH). She has been a historian and curator at the Smithsonian Institution since 1981, working in several different divisions over that time. Between 1988 and 2005, she was the head of the Collection of Advertising History at the NMAH Archives Center. She is a specialist in ethnic imagery in popular culture, the history of advertising, the history of African American preservation efforts, and on the origins of ethnic museums on the National Mall. Ruffins has curated or consulted on several major Smithsonian exhibitions, other African American exhibitions and on many community history projects around the country. Between 2011 and 2014, she served as original project director of Many Voices, One Nation, and an exhibition that opened at NMAH in 2017. At present, she is at work on a book project that examines how the Smithsonian Institution changed over the last fifty years to become more diverse in terms of collections, exhibitions and staff. The working title is “Curating While Black.”
Fath Davis Ruffins; Building Homes for Black History: Museum Founders, Founding Directors, and Pioneers, 1915–95. The Public Historian 1 August 2018; 40 (3): 13–43. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/tph.2018.40.3.13
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