Black Lives Matter, Black Culture Matters: Expanded VersionMay 10 2021
“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” -James Baldwin
“Black Lives Matter” first appeared as a hashtag on social media in July 2013 following the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the death of Trayvon Martin, an African American teen who was fatally shot by Zimmerman in 2012 while walking home from a convenience store in Sanford, Florida. It subsequently became the rallying cry of a national protest movement that emerged in 2014 after the police killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner in New York City. Since then, the Black Lives Matter movement has continued to evolve, and is now a driving force in the national effort to identify and counteract the effects of systemic racism not only in the criminal justice system, but also in education, jobs, health care and housing.
The phrase Black Lives Matter is not meant to suggest that other lives do not matter or matter less than Black lives. Rather, it emphasizes that Black Americans continue disproportionately to experience injustice and inequality as a result of specific political, social, economic and cultural forces that in many cases have existed in this country for centuries. The phrase also affirms the numerous positive contributions that Black people have made to many areas of American life and culture, from art, literature and music to film, food, and fashion, among others. Black Lives Matter because Black people have played an essential and valuable role in making the United States the nation it is today.
This digital exhibition is divided into five sections that address a variety of topics in African American history and culture from the end of the Civil War to the present. It does not pretend to be comprehensive, but is offered in the hope that it will lead to contemplation, conversation and ultimately change. All of the artworks in the exhibition belong to the permanent collection of the Kruizenga Art Museum. Most of the artworks have been acquired since 2014 as part of the museum’s mission to educate, engage and inspire the communities of Hope College and West Michigan while fostering the qualities of empathy, tolerance and global understanding that are part of Hope College’s mission to provide an outstanding Christian liberal arts education.
The institution of slavery existed in America from 1619 when the first shipment of enslaved Africans arrived in the Virginia Colony, until 1865 when it was formally abolished by the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution. During the 246 years that slavery existed in America, it was opposed by a variety of individuals and groups who argued that depriving people of their freedom and full humanity was morally wrong and a violation of the Christian duty to love others as ourselves. The efforts of these abolitionists—both Black and white—resulted in slavery being outlawed throughout the northern United States by the first decade of the 19th century, but the practice remained legal in the southern states and ultimately became the most important factor leading to the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861.
A crucial turning point in the history of American slavery occurred on January 1, 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation and declared all enslaved people in the Confederate States of America to be free. Although the ongoing Civil War prevented Lincoln from immediately enforcing this proclamation, by making the war explicitly about slavery, the Emancipation Proclamation energized the Union side and ensured that slavery would end when the North finally prevailed.
However, the end of slavery was only the beginning of the struggle to achieve true freedom and full civil rights for Black Americans. Despite good intentions, the federal government failed to provide adequate material assistance to formerly enslaved individuals and families after the Civil War, leaving many Black people in the South economically and geographically trapped by poverty. Moreover, although the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution that were passed in the years following the war theoretically gave Black people the full rights of US citizenship, weak federal enforcement of those amendments left many African Americans vulnerable to white supremacist laws at the state and local levels that continued to oppress them well into the 20th century.