WORTH THE DRIVE: Celebrate Black women who changed history

Queens of the Heartland, an exhibition highlighting the trailblazing accomplishments of 30 Black Ohio women, is on display at the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center in Wilberforce. LISA POWELL / STAFF

Credit: LISA POWELL

Credit: LISA POWELL

Two new exhibitions at the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center in Wilberforce share stories of trailblazing Black women and the impact of art.

“Queens of the Heartland” looks at 30 innovative Ohio Black women who influenced arts, literature, education, science and politics.

"Queens of the Heartland" is on display at the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center. The exhibition looks at 30 innovative Ohio Black women who influenced arts, literature, education, science and politics. LISA POWELL / STAFF

The exhibition begins in the 1830s and spans history to the 21st century highlighting numerous movements including Suffrage, anti-lynching, labor and representation.

“African American women have been American heroes,” said Hadley Drodge, an assistant curator at the museum. “We’re really looking at what it means to be an American and answering that question in a new way; I think in a more honest way, with the faces of these black women.”

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Drodge teamed up with New York City based artist Nichole Washington to create the exhibition. The pair chose a snapshot of Black Ohio women who were “architects of change who built social movements and shaped the world.”

Hallie Quinn Brown’s passport, a road map of her travels around the world, is part of the Queens of the Heartland display at the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center in Wilberforce. LISA POWELL / STAFF

Credit: LISA POWELL

Credit: LISA POWELL

Fanny Jackson Coppin was born enslaved, but her aunt was able to buy her freedom for $125.

In 1860 she enrolled at Oberlin College and became the first Black student teacher, class poet and held evening classes for African Americans who had recently left the south.

Hallie Quinn Brown’s passport, a road map of her travels around the world, is part of the display.

The orator, author and educator was the daughter of enslaved parents who graduated from Wilberforce University and taught in public schools and Tuskeegee Institute before returning to Wilberforce.

She met Queen Victoria while touring Europe in the 1890s with the Women’s Temperance Union.

Some of the trailblazing women are well-known and others have been forgotten.

Ella Stewart was one of the first Black pharmacists in the country and Marian Spencer was a civil rights leader who led a successful campaign in the 1950s to open Cincinnati’s Coney Island Park to African-Americans.

Shoes owned by Ruby Dee, an actress and activist, are part of Queens of the Heartland, an exhibition highlighting the trailblazing accomplishments of 30 Black Ohio women, on display at the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center in Wilberforce. LISA POWELL / STAFF

Credit: LISA POWELL

Credit: LISA POWELL

Ruby Ann Wallace — better known as Ruby Dee, the actor, filmmaker and poet — used her voice to fight for civil rights alongside her husband, actor Ossie Davis.

Hannah Beachler, the visionary behind Wakanda for the film adaption of Black Panther, was the first African American to win the Academy Award for production design in 2019 and Irene Long became the first woman chief medical officer at Kennedy Space Center in 2000.

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Three-dimensional objects including hats, dresses, love letters and a scrapbook filled with news articles about lynching bring the history to life.

“None of these women are islands,” Drodge said. “These women built coalitions, they worked together and they were friends, mentors and inspired by one another. Working together is how change really happens.”

Rosa Rojas, curator at the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center, put together the 2020 Art of Soul! exhibition on view through Feb. 27,2021. LISA POWELL / STAFF

Credit: LISA POWELL

Credit: LISA POWELL

The museum’s seventh annual art show, “The Art of Soul!”, opened last weekend.

Twenty-two artists from around the country were selected to be part of the juried show. This year’s theme is “impact,” and explores what influences us as human beings and the impact we have on others.

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Rosa Rojas, lead curator at the museum, said the show is important to give artists of color “an opportunity to amplify their voice.”

Among the artists, Kay Onwukwe of Gahanna calls attention to racial disparities in three paintings influenced by the killing of George Floyd, COVID-19 and white supremacy.

With intricate embroidery artist Gail Patrice Mallory of Houston, TX, has created five faceless women in colorful Kente cloth dresses for Women in Our Village. The 2020 Art of Soul! Exhibition in on view at the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center through Feb. 27, 2021. LISA POWELL / STAFF

Credit: LISA POWELL

Credit: LISA POWELL

A portrait by artist Darin Darby of Romulus, Mich., showcases Ira Aldridge, the first African American to play the role of Othello in a Shakespeare play.

With intricate embroidery artist Gail Patrice Mallory of Houston, TX, has created five faceless women in colorful Kente cloth dresses for “Women in Our Village.”

“I want people to think about the mark they are leaving. Every time an artist puts a mark on a background, it’s intentional,” Rojas said. “Then the viewer coming in is adding their own story to it from their own experiences.”

WANT TO GO?

WHAT: Queens of the Heartland is currently on view through 2022. The 2020 Art of Soul! Exhibition in on view through Feb. 27, 2021.

WHERE: The National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center is located at 1350 Brush Row Road in Wilberforce.

WHEN: Hours are Wednesday – Saturday, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.

ADMISSION: $6 for adults, $5 for seniors, $3 for children ages 6-17 and for students, free for NAAMCC and Ohio History Connection members.

More info: www.ohiohistory.org/visit/museum-and-site-locator/national-afro-american-museum | Facebook.com/naamcc/

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