Positively Philadelphia: New exhibit showcases rare African American art, culture

Lauren Lipton
May 19, 2019 - 4:00 am

Lauren Lipton/KYW Newsradio

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — There is a new exhibit opening this week at the Philadelphia Library Company and you will be able to see things in person that few people have seen.

"The title of the exhibit is ‘From Negro Pasts to Afro-Futures: Black Creative Re-Imaginings,’” explained Dr. Deirdre Cooper Owens.

Dr. Deirdre Cooper Owens, Program Director of African American studies at the Library Company of Philadelphia
Lauren Lipton/KYW Newsradio

Owens is a curator of the exhibit and program director of African American studies at the Library Company of Philadelphia at 1314 Locust Street.

"We have at the centerpiece a 17th century bible from East Africa, all the way to posters from elected black officials right at the end of slavery, so it is wide ranging in scope," she explained.

A jewel of the exhibit is the friendship album, one of only five known to exist in the world.

Amy Matilda Cassey was a middle class African American female active in the anti-slavery movement.

"The Cassey book really shows the lives of free middle class people of color as they were called then, here in Philadelphia. It is also a moment to see how they curated their lives. Often the images you get are of stereotypes, caricatures like mammy and black face. Here are actual 19th century black people writing poems and letters and drawing flowers. They are doing ordinary things and I think showing that is important. The freedom to live in a place like Philadelphia that was a bit less restrictive obviously then the slave holding south also allowed them to be creative in ways that enslaved people were not allowed to access."

Dr. Deirdre Cooper Owens, Program Director of African American studies at the Library Company of Philadelphia
Lauren Lipton/KYW Newsradio

The exhibit opens this week and continues until October.