Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture

Edification value
Entertainment value
Should you go?
Time spent 45 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned Schomburg’s Media Center was showing a selection of Blaxploitation films as a complement to the Black Power exhibition. I stopped for longer than I expected to to watch Pam Grier refuse to take crap from anybody.  I feel a little guilty, as the history of Black Power is incredibly important, now more than ever.  But Pam Grier was the best thing I saw there.

The Schomburg Center is the New York Public Library’s research branch focused on the African American experience. It’s a complex of three buildings in Harlem, hosting a ton of talks, events, and exhibitions. Much of the Schomburg Center is currently undergoing a thorough renovation, so I couldn’t visit anything beyond the exhibition space.

This is the first of at least three library branches that I’ll be visiting and writing about in the course of this project. If there’s one thing the NYPL does really well, it’s bring documents to life. 

The current show at the Schomburg Center is on the Black Power movement of the late 60s and 70s.  (2016 marked its fiftieth anniversary) Well chosen quotes highlighted the establishment reaction to the Black Power movement, actual newspapers, magazines, flyers, photographs, pins and other key documents made an exhibit that involved a great deal of reading much more immediate and interesting.  Music from the era helped convey the emotion of the time. And some well chosen videos on a couple of screens added variety.

The show covers a large amount of ground, reflecting on the political and organizational tactics of the Black Power leadership, as well as on the movement’s impact on fashion, the arts, and popular culture. I confess I always wondered about the berets that were such a signature part of the Black Power look.  The show suggests they came from the influence of Che Guevara and Fidel Castro.

The Schomburg’s exhibition space itself is beautiful, light and airy, with big windows.  It’s not large, but it was the right size for the show it contained. 

Should you go?  For both the Schomburg in general and this show in particular, I’d say yes.  The NYPL knows how to pull off focused exhibits leveraging documents as the main things that tell the story.  I’m not sure everything they program there will be as relevant or important as Black Power!, but I feel confident it’ll be interesting.

For Reference:

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