Historic African American visions of a life of freedom and elegance

Peter Crimmins | WHYY

Despite a long culture rich with tradition, it can be hard to find materials that show how African-Americans viewed themselves throughout history. In the early days of the United States, black people were often described by white people — sometimes sympathetically, often not.

“From Negro Pasts to Afro-Futures,” an exhibition now on view at the Library Company of Philadelphia, is an assemblage of historical postcards, letters, sheet music, drawings, books, and prints that African Americans used to remember their own past and envision a future for black America.

“When people think of African American in the 18th and 19th centuries, they think of slavery, caricature drawings, and the harsh circumstances African Americans had to endure,” said co-curator Jasmine Smith, a specialist of African American material at the Library Company. “This exhibition showcases them in a positive light.”

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