Earlier this month, I spoke at a conference in Los Angeles hosted by the local Association of Legal Administrators chapter. I added two days to my stay in LA, which led to visiting a couple art exhibits that reminded me of how artists are often idealists working to change the world by making the viewer think of things that are often missed. It happened that both exhibits were about the marginalization of Black people.

One exhibit, at the J. Paul Getty Museum, featured hauntingly beautiful photographs by Sally Mann, a rural Virginia photographer who uses an antique photography process known as “wet plate collodion” that utilizes 8” x 10” glass negatives. Her collection of photographs in A Thousand Crossings j uxtaposes the physical beauty of the South with its history of scarring generations of people with black skin. Among the items photographed was the bridge over the Tallahatchie River in Mississippi from which 14-year-old Emmett Till’s beaten and mutilated body was thrown in 1955. (Read about Emmett Till here .)

The second exhibit, D37 , at LA’s Museum of Contemporary Art, by conceptual artist Cameron Rowland, underscores how America has historically treated Black people as taxable property and a source of revenue generation. The exhibit features two groupings of bicycles, along with a baby stroller and two backpack-style leaf blowers—all items seized by law enforcement and then sold as part of current-day criminal or civil forfeiture processes that help to fund many of the nation’s police departments.

The most powerful items in D37 are three framed mid-1800’s property tax receipts from Southern counties. Each receipt lists commonly thought of property—“livestock” “horses” carriages” “gold and silver.” Yet, each receipt also lists another item of property —“slaves.” One receipt specified “3” slaves, a second, “13” slaves.

An eye-opening and heavily annotated paper that accompanied Rowland’s D37 exhibit notes that, “In 1860, slaves comprised 20% of all American wealth, including real estate.” Think about that—160 years ago, a fifth of America’s wealth consisted of enslaved Black people. I had no idea.

It’s incredibly important that we learn about all aspects of America, including its historical treatment of Black people and those of other skin colors, along with American Indians. Artists like Mann and Rowland are helping us with that learning.