Houston Matters

‘This was our Holocaust’ — Exhibit of African-American history and art comes to Houston

Bernard and Shirley Kinsey talk about their collection of artifacts and works of art that illustrate the contributions of African Americans to this country, which is on display through June 23 at Holocaust Museum Houston.

"The Cape Coast Castle Doors," also known as "The Doors of No Return,
“The Cape Coast Castle Doors,” also known as “The Doors of No Return," or "The Black Doors of Tears," are one of the first things visitors see at the exhibit of The Kinsey African American Art & History Collection, which is on display Jan. 12-June 23, 2024 at Holocaust Museum Houston.

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When they were married more than 50 years ago, Bernard and Shirley Kinsey started collecting works of art by Black artists and historical documents illustrating what life was like for African Americans and the contributions they made to what became the United States, from slavery to the modern day.

That collection grew to more than 700 pieces and tours the country as The Kinsey African American Art & History Collection, which is on display at Holocaust Museum Houston Jan. 12 through June 23.

While they were in town to supervise the installation of the exhibit, the Kinseys gave Houston Matters producer Michael Hagerty a tour of the items on display.

The lock on "The Cape Coast Castle Doors," also known as "The Doors of No Return.
The lock on “The Cape Coast Castle Doors,” also known as “The Doors of No Return."

One of the first things visitors see when they walk into the gallery are “The Cape Coast Castle Doors,” also known as “The Doors of No Return," or "The Black Doors of Tears."

The two, dark, imposing, wooden doors adorned with heavy, metal locking mechanisms were often the last things slaves saw before leaving the Cape Coast Castle, a slave trading post on the western coast of Ghana, to board a ship for the harrowing voyage to the Americas and life as a slave.

Other historical artifacts in the exhibit include an enlarged diagram of how Africans were packed aboard slave ships for the Americas, original bills of sale from the slave trade, and tintype photos of slaves and freed slaves.

A tintype photo of an unknown African American woman and her baby is one of many such images of slaves and former slaves in The Kinsey African American Art & History Collection.

There’s also a baptismal record of a slave from 1595 in St. Augustine, Fla. It’s the earliest known baptismal record of African American presence in what later became the United States, establishing the existence of African Americans 12 years before the founding of Jamestown.

A baptismal record of a slave from 1595 in St. Augustine, Fla. It’s the earliest known baptismal record of African American presence in what later
became the United States, establishing the existence of African Americans 12 years before the founding of Jamestown.

The rest of the items on display include numerous works of art by notable African Americans from more modern times, but also those who did exemplary work before the end of slavery.

PHOTO GALLERY:

  • Shirley and Bernard Kinsey with their son, Kahlil (center). (Photo Credit: Kinsey Collection)
    Shirley and Bernard Kinsey with their son, Kahlil (center). (Photo Credit: Kinsey Collection)
  • A tintype photo of an unknown African American woman and her baby is one of many such images of slaves and former slaves in The Kinsey African American Art & History Collection. (Photo Credit: Michael Hagerty/Houston Public Media)
    A tintype photo of an unknown African American woman and her baby is one of many such images of slaves and former slaves in The Kinsey African American Art & History Collection. (Photo Credit: Michael Hagerty/Houston Public Media)
  • A baptismal record of a slave from 1595 in St. Augustine, Fla. It's the earliest known baptismal record of African American presence in what later
became the United States, establishing the existence of African Americans 12 years before the founding of Jamestown. (Photo Credit: Kinsey Collection)
    A baptismal record of a slave from 1595 in St. Augustine, Fla. It's the earliest known baptismal record of African American presence in what later became the United States, establishing the existence of African Americans 12 years before the founding of Jamestown. (Photo Credit: Kinsey Collection)
  • Bernard and Shirley Kinsey tour the gallery containing pieces from their collection of art and historical documents from African American history at Holocaust Museum Houston. (Photo Credit: Michael Hagerty/Houston Public Media)
    Bernard and Shirley Kinsey tour the gallery containing pieces from their collection of art and historical documents from African American history at Holocaust Museum Houston. (Photo Credit: Michael Hagerty/Houston Public Media)
  • A sculpture of two Black musicians that's part of the The Kinsey African American Art & History Collection, on display at Holocaust Museum Houston Jan. 12-June 23, 2024. (Photo Credit: Michael Hagerty/Houston Public Media)
    A sculpture of two Black musicians that's part of the The Kinsey African American Art & History Collection, on display at Holocaust Museum Houston Jan. 12-June 23, 2024. (Photo Credit: Michael Hagerty/Houston Public Media)
  • A tintype photo of two African Americans whose names have been long lost to history but are part of The Kinsey African American Art & History Collection. (Photo Credit: Kinsey Collection)
    A tintype photo of two African Americans whose names have been long lost to history but are part of The Kinsey African American Art & History Collection. (Photo Credit: Kinsey Collection)
  • An oil painting by artist by Laura Wheeler Waring called "Woman Wearing Orange Scarf." (Photo Credit: Kinsey Collection)
    An oil painting by artist by Laura Wheeler Waring called "Woman Wearing Orange Scarf." (Photo Credit: Kinsey Collection)
  • "The Cape Coast Castle Doors," also known as "The Doors of No Return,” or “The Black Doors of Tears,” are one of the first things visitors see at the exhibit of The Kinsey African American Art & History Collection, which is on display Jan. 12-June 23, 2024 at Holocaust Museum Houston. (Photo Credit: Michael Hagerty/Houston Public Media)
    "The Cape Coast Castle Doors," also known as "The Doors of No Return,” or “The Black Doors of Tears,” are one of the first things visitors see at the exhibit of The Kinsey African American Art & History Collection, which is on display Jan. 12-June 23, 2024 at Holocaust Museum Houston. (Photo Credit: Michael Hagerty/Houston Public Media)
  • "The Cape Coast Castle Doors," also known as "The Doors of No Return,” or “The Black Doors of Tears,” were once the last things slaves saw before leaving a prison on the coast of Ghana to board a ship for the harrowing voyage to the Americas and life as a slave. (Photo Credit: Michael Hagerty/Houston Public Media)
    "The Cape Coast Castle Doors," also known as "The Doors of No Return,” or “The Black Doors of Tears,” were once the last things slaves saw before leaving a prison on the coast of Ghana to board a ship for the harrowing voyage to the Americas and life as a slave. (Photo Credit: Michael Hagerty/Houston Public Media)
  • The lock on "The Cape Coast Castle Doors," also known as "The Doors of No Return.”  (Photo Credit: Michael Hagerty/Houston Public Media)
    The lock on "The Cape Coast Castle Doors," also known as "The Doors of No Return.” (Photo Credit: Michael Hagerty/Houston Public Media)
  • Inside the gallery containing The Kinsey African American Art & History Collection at Holocaust Museum Houston. (Photo Credit: Michael Hagerty/Houston Public Media)
    Inside the gallery containing The Kinsey African American Art & History Collection at Holocaust Museum Houston. (Photo Credit: Michael Hagerty/Houston Public Media)
  • A sculpture that's part of The Kinsey African American Art & History Collection. (Photo Credit: Michael Hagerty/Houston Public Media)
    A sculpture that's part of The Kinsey African American Art & History Collection. (Photo Credit: Michael Hagerty/Houston Public Media)
  • Bernard and Shirley Kinsey and their son Khalil are the subjects of a portrait by the artist Samuel Dunson. (Photo Credit: Kinsey Collection)
    Bernard and Shirley Kinsey and their son Khalil are the subjects of a portrait by the artist Samuel Dunson. (Photo Credit: Kinsey Collection)
  • Holocaust Museum Houston. (Photo Credit: Michael Hagerty/Houston Public Media)
    Holocaust Museum Houston. (Photo Credit: Michael Hagerty/Houston Public Media)