US consul general Clifford Hart left looks on as Bernard Kinsey introduces his collection of African American art and history. Photos: Lawerence Ng

Hong Kong outing for exhibition that aims to rewrite black American history

City will be first outside the United States to see the Kinsey Collection of art and artefacts, including evidence the first African Americans were free men, not slaves. HKU to research the issue

Hong Kong will be the first international stop of an ambitious exhibition aimed at revising 400 years of American history, and the African American couple behind the show expect its focus on the historic misrepresentation of the black community will resonate with Chinese audiences.

“It’s a shared history with Latinos and Asian Americans. The Chinese Exclusion Act [of 1882] was the first act to identify a race of people who could not emigrate to the United States. We think there’s a lot more commonality here that meets the eye,” said Bernard Kinsey, an American business consultant who, with his wife Shirley, has built up a large collection of African American art and historic objects dating back to 1600.

The Kinsey Collection will be exhibited from December 9 at the University of Hong Kong’s museum and is endorsed by Clifford Hart, US consul general to Hong Kong and Macau. Hart joined in with guests at his Barker Road home on Wednesday evening when Bernard Kinsey asked everyone to chant: “There are stories that made America, and there are stories that America made up.”

Many people continue to tie black American history to slavery, says Kinsey.

Among the stories made up, according to Mr Kinsey, is the common belief that all African Americans were slaves in the early days.

“We have paintings from 1865 by professional African American artists. We have a document from the late 16th century showing that descendants from the Moors in Spain were among the first settlers, years before the English settled in Jamestown. They were not slaves,” he said.

The exhibition has been seen by five million people in 21 cities within the US, including Washington, where it was shown at the Smithsonian Institution. With the country’s first African American president soon to step down, the Kinseys feel there remains much work to be done to address racial stereotypes.

“I am glad they are replacing Andrew Jackson with Harriet Tubman on the twenty-dollar bill. I really don’t like the man. Still, many people continue to tie black history with slavery and that means there remain a lot of prejudices on all sides,” he added.

Kinsey hopes to bring the exhibition to cities in China after Hong Kong.

HKU’s American studies and African studies programmes would tailor-make courses based on the exhibits and conduct academic research, said Derek Collins, dean of the faculty of arts at HKU.