Journalist’s collection chronicling the African-American experience goes on auction
A journalist and an artist have built a collection over decades that chronicles the full scope of African-American history — from enslavement through emancipation, from Jim Crow to the Civil Rights movement to the present day. And now, they’re auctioning it off.
Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson and his wife, Avis, have collected artifacts, documents, and photographs that trace the African-American experience. On Thursday, the collection, titled “Please Remember,” opens for online bidding through Boston’s Skinner Auctioneers. On Feb. 9, the artifacts will be offered at a public auction at Skinner’s Park Plaza location.
It is timed to coincide with the beginning of Black History Month.
Included in the collection is a chest found in West Africa that contains 90 pairs of shackles from the late 17th or early 18th century, smaller shackles that were apparently used on enslaved children, and a framed bill of sale from the 19th century for an enslaved woman named Mary.
“When you hold the [shackles] in your hands,” Robinson said, “you feel the historical resonance in a way that in many ways is more powerful than just reading about it.”
Also among the artifacts: insurance documents for slave ships, an iron slave collar, a framed 1864 discharge document for a black solider, and an unframed tintype of Booker T. Washington. Some of the proceeds from the auction will go to “an organization dedicated to the preservation of African American history,” according to a release from Skinner.
“First of all, African-American history is American history,” Robinson said. “There is no division between the two. It’s the history of this country since before it was a country.”
The slavery period is taught and studied, he said. But Robinson doesn’t think society has really come to grips with it. In a way, the artifacts make you confront the reality of the country’s history.
“A lot of the images of African-Americans, some of them old photographic processes back into the 19th century, tintypes and daguerreotypes, those really speak to me,” he said. “Because you just see families, you see people dressed often in their Sunday best posing for the photographer. You get a sense of humanity that again is perfectly normal, and it’s striking that we don’t see these images more often.”