Celebrating African Artists at the National Archives 

February is Black History Month! Visit the National Archives website to learn more about our many resources and events related to Black history. Today we’re looking at a 1971 exhibit at the National Archives Building of images of African art from one of our donated collections.

The National Archives promoted Black history even before February was officially designated as Black History Month, but those celebrations were somewhat sporadic until 1970. That is when the National Archives hired Robert L. Clarke to be the agency’s first official specialist in Black history.

Among other responsibilities, Clarke was tasked with serving as the National Archives coordinator for Negro History Week, the precursor to Black History Month, and enlisted many of his colleagues to help commemorate the week’s events. These activities usually consisted of talks on Black history research, special exhibits, film screenings, and outreach to local Washington, DC-area schools. 

In 1971, for the nation’s 45th annual celebration of Negro History Week, the National Archives held an exhibit of photographs from the Harmon Foundation donated collection. Established in 1922 by real estate developer William E. Harmon, the Harmon Foundation supported Black artists by providing opportunities to showcase their work. After the foundation closed in 1967, its materials and collections were dispersed to various institutions around the country with numerous films and photographic records coming to the National Archives. 

The exhibit included color photographs of works from a number of contemporary African artists including Congolese painter Pilipili Mulongoy, Ghanaian artist Arthur J.E. Bucknor, South African artist Peter Clarke, and Nigerian artist Justus D. Akeredolu, among others. The exhibit was on display in the National Archives Building’s old theater lobby. 

Unfortunately, we only have black-and-white photographs of the exhibit, but many individual entries in the National Archives Catalog include color photos of the artworks that were on display and other works from the collection, as well. 

More information about the Harmon Foundation Collection at the National Archives can be found in these sources:

Check out the National Archives Guide to Black History and the Black Power Portal to learn more about our rich African American history resources.

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