February 23, 2018 - Vol. 1, Issue 21
Presidential Portraits and the Black Aesthetic
Above, the former president and first lady at the unveiling of their portraits 8
Barack Obama's presidential portrait, by Kehinde Wiley 9
Michelle Obam's first lady portrait, by Amy Sherald 10
Queen Brooks
Lee Ransaw
Merton Simpson

On February 12, 2018, the portraits of President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama were unveiled at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. For the first time in U.S. history, the official portraits were created by African American artists 1 : Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald.

Visibly groundbreaking and strikingly different, the unprecedented portraits invite a new dialogue about the “black aesthetic,” identified in the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and ‘70s. Douglas Emerson Blandy and Kristin G. Congdon and Pluralistic Approaches to Art Criticism note of the term’s development: “In embracing ‘blackness’ as a cultural and political statement, black artists and activists… repudiated previous negative labels and provided a unifying banner under which Americans of African origin could stand tall. Implicit in the use of the term ‘black aesthetic’ is the idea that there are certain immediate intuitive feelings and responses about works of art that artists and viewers within the aesthetic field of the African diaspora share.” 2

In Black is Beautiful: A Philosophy of Black Aesthetics, Paul C. Taylor expounds upon the concept, stressing the empowerment that is associated with its use: “For post-black thinkers, nationalist ideas about cultural self-determination and about a unique African personality have been supplanted by individualist and often apolitical aspirations, and by appeals to intra-racial diversity and interracial commonalities. Instead of aiming to vindicate black humanity or to express African ideals authentically, post-black aesthetics treat blackness not as its source but as its subject.” 3

In her 2012 interview, visual artist Queen Brooks offered her own definition: “ Black art to me is done by a black person who had the black experience and that’s what makes it art, it’s the experience.” [Queen Brooks, THMDA 1.4.5]. 4 Painter Merton Simpson challenged this idea, as he voiced a common critique: “ Because you’re an artist, you’re a human being, and you paint. And that’s it, you know. You happen to be black… I mean, art is art, and it’s still that to me.” 5 [Merton Simpson, THMDA 1.2.3].

Upon viewing Wiley’s photos, Obama expressed his admiration for Wiley, who often depicts African American males in traditionally white classical style. Most notably, he stated that Wiley’s art “challenged our own conventional views of power and privilege.” 6 Both paintings, each unique and bold in mannerism, certainly herald a legacy of change, underscored by the gravitas of the first African American family’s tenure in the White House.

Fine artist and art professor Lee Ransaw concludes of the importance of addressing the black aesthetic: “ If you look at another hundred years from now, if you look back at this century, if you don't have these images, you don't have any images of the 20th century of what black people are, you don't have images of the 19th century, then, who are we? So it's very important that we express ourselves in a way which carries forward in history.” 7 [Lee Ransaw, THMDA 1.4.5].   


The HistoryMakers Archive in Action
The HistoryMakers Virtual Residency Week at Domincan University 11
From February 12th through the 16th, Dominican University hosted The HistoryMakers Virtual Residency Week. Radio host Callie Crossley and The HistoryMakers' founder Julieanna Richardson visited campus, where they spoke with students and administrators about The HistoryMakers Digital Archive and the power of the oral history narrative.
Dominican University also announced its Spring 2018 courses that will incorporate the archive in their curricula. In the Department of Apparel Design and Merchandising, Professor Jose Blanco will teach "History of Dress II: Contemporary Dress," where he will have students research HistoryMakers in the fashion industry, including their role models and inspirations. Students will present their findings to the class; and they will also be charged with compiling a list of other African American style icons they think should be included in the archive.
For a full list of these collaborative courses at Dominican University, please visit:
Thank you again to all of our wonderful subscribing institutions!
Please share with us your stories of how you incorporate The HistoryMakers Digital Archive in your curriculum and research! We'd love to hear from you!

This week, 17 new interviews were added to The HistoryMakers Digital Archive:
The Honorable Lorraine Miller

Federal government appointee The Honorable Lorraine Miller (1948 - ) served over thirty years in the United States government and was the first African American to hold the seat of clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Jack Johnson

State deputy attorney and county government official Jack Johnson (1949 - ) was elected County Chief Executive of Prince George’s County, Maryland.

Jacqulyn Shropshire

Civic leader and non-profit executive Jacqulyn Shropshire (1935 - ) served as executive director of the Milwaukee Urban League. In Las Vegas, Nevada she founded the Las Vegas Urban League; and was a founding board member of the Smith Center for the Performing Arts.
Dorothy Tucker

Television news reporter Dorothy Tucker (1956 - ) was a general assignment reporter at WBBM-TV in Chicago for almost 30 years, winning nine local Emmy Awards and several other honors.
Pluria Marshall, Jr.

Broadcast executive, publisher, and newspaper publishing chief executive Pluria Marshall, Jr. (1962 - ) was the owner and publisher of the Houston Informer and Texas Freeman and the Los Angeles Wave Publications Group. He also operated WLTH Radio and Integrated Multicultural Media Solutions.

Melvin Miller

Newspaper editor Melvin Miller (1934 - ) was the founder, publisher and editor of the Bay State Banner, a weekly newspaper advocating the interests of Greater Boston’s African American community.
Leon Huff

R & B record company producer Leon Huff (1942 - ) cofounded the Philadelphia International Records label, which produced #1 R&B hits like The O’ Jays’ “Love Train,” Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes’ “If You Don't Know Me By Now,” Lou Rawls’ “You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine,” and “TSOP,” which became the theme to the television show Soul Train.
Mary Wilson

Singer Mary Wilson (1944 - ) , an original member of The Supremes, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988.
Frankie Knuckles

Dj Frankie Knuckles (1955 - 2014 ) signed with Virgin Records in 1991, becoming one of the first DJs to sign to a major label. In 1997, he became the first DJ to win the Grammy Award for Best Remixed Recording, Non-Classical.
James "Jimmy Jam" Harris, III

Music producer and songwriter James "Jimmy Jam" Harris, III (1959 - ) , along with partner, Terry Lewis, has garnered more awards than any other music producers in history. The recipients of five Grammy awards, Harris and Lewis were honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2010.
Donald McKayle

Choreographer, director, and educator Donald McKayle (1930 - ) was the author of Transcending Boundaries: My Dancing Life. His major choreographic works include Games, Rainbow Round My Shoulder, District Storyville, Raisin, and Sophisticated Ladies.
Lalita Tademy

Author Lalita Tademy (1948 - ) served as the vice president and general manager of Sun Microsystems before becoming a best selling novelist with Cane River and Red River.
Walter C. Jackson

Sculptor Walter C. Jackson (1940 - ) served as an assistant professor of art and an artist in residence at several universities and museums. His work, mainly freestanding sculptures and installations, were included in public collections at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Tennessee Museum of Contemporary Art, the National Civil Rights Museum, and the Anderson Museum of Contemporary Art.

Nichelle Nichols

Film actress and television actress Nichelle Nichols (1932 - ) was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for her role as Lieutenant Commander Uhura in the original Star Trek television series and movie franchise.

Eugenia Collier

English professor Eugenia Collier (1928 - ) was best known for her 1969 short story “Marigolds.” She also taught English for forty-one years at several colleges and universities.

Anthony Reed

Marathoner Anthony Reed (1955 - ) was the first African American to compete in marathons in all seven continents of the world. He also co-founded the National Black Marathoners Association (NBMA).

Marvin Perry

Banker and nonprofit chief executive Marvin Perry (1944 - ) was the founder of the Black Board of Directors Project in Phoenix, Arizona, whose purpose was to promote minority executive leadership in corporate, nonprofit and policy making institutions.
1.      Sourced from The Guardian, “Barack and Michelle Obama’s Official Portraits Expand Beyond Usual Format” David Smith:
2.     Ed. Douglas Emerson Blandy, Kristin G. Congdon, Pluralistic Approaches to Art Criticism. Popular Press, 1991.
3.     Paul C. Taylor, Black is Beautiful: A Philosophy of Black Aesthetics. John Wiley and Sons, May 23, 2016.
4.     Queen Brooks (The HistoryMakers A2012.082), interviewed by Larry Crowe, April 3, 2012, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 4, story 5, Queen Brooks talks about the black aesthetic
5.     Merton Simpson (The HistoryMakers A2005.250), interviewed by Shawn Wilson, November 29, 2005, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 2, story 3, Merton Simpson talks about the black art aesthetic
6.      Camila Domonoske, “Paintings of Barack and Michelle Obama Unveiled at Portrait Gallery” NPR. Can be found:
7.     Lee Ransaw (The HistoryMakers A2011.026), interviewed by Denise Gines, April 19, 2011, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 4, story 5, Lee Ransaw describes his early knowledge of the black aesthetic
8.      Banner: Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images. Can be found at:
9.      Barack Obama’s presidential portrait. Copyright Kehinde Wiley. Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. Can be found at:
10.  Michelle Obama’s presidential portrait. Copyright Amy Sherald. Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. Can be found at:
Dominican University, copyright. Photo can be found at:
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