Voices of Newark’s past at ‘We Found Our Way: Newark Portraits from the Great Migration’

black history month cardIt was opening night of the Newark Public Library’s Black History Celebration. There was a dynamic keynote speaker, John W. Franklin, from the soon-to-open Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. Delicious hot food was prepared by Eclectic Catering. Live piano music played by the talented Miche Braden filled the air. Once gathered together, the Black National Anthem, “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” resounded through the library’s Centennial Hall as we all sang it together.

And yet the real stars of the evening were those who had come before us: the voices and images of the Krueger-Scott African-American Oral History Collection.

The opening exhibit, entitled “We Found Our Way: Newark Portraits from the Great Migration” wound around the spacious second floor of the library. Dr. Samantha Boardman, guest curator, had gathered together images and recordings from the 1990s oral history project which collected narratives from over one hundred of Newark’s African-American citizens, many who had come North during the Great Migration.

IMG_0660In the glass display cases were photographs of the narrators and the interviewers, as well as other historic images and artifacts of Newark. One could put on a pair of headphones and actually listen to excerpts from those oral histories which had peers interviewing peers in people’s homes, churches, and even City Hall. In addition to the display, an assemblage of paintings and drawings by African-American artists such as Elizabeth Catlett lined the walls between the marble columns. Exhibited as well was a selection of stunning glass books created by Rutgers-Newark students under the guidance of Adrienne Wheeler and Nick Kline. The students’ work was inspired by listening to the Krueger-Scott oral histories.

Catherine J. Lenix-Hooker was there to celebrate. Ms. Hooker, the director of the original project, said she was thrilled to see its results made available to the public, excited to have these voices heard by so many. In fact, a website has just been created through Rutgers University which will allow anyone access to the recordings on site.

All of us in attendance last night were glad we had “found our way” into this special moment. It was affirmation that while Black history may get a bit more attention in the month of February, it is truly part of the fabric that is our nation’s history and thus must be paid attention to each and every day of the year.

The exhibit will be on display at the library through April 9, 2016. Please visit the Newark Public Library’s website for its calendar of Black History Month events and projects.

All photos: Katie Singer