History on tour: Traveling exhibit displays African American history

Published 5:45 pm Tuesday, November 7, 2023

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Throughout the rest of November and into the first part of December, the Austin Public Library is hosting a unique exhibit.

“Testify: Americana Slavery Today” photo gallery exhibit opened Monday at the library and will remain open until Dec. 8. The exhibit features images and information of art and artifacts collected by Diane and Alan Page.

“They had the original collection up in 2018 at the Minneapolis Central Library,” said Austin Public Library Adult Services Librarian Courtney Wyant Schmitt. “It had such an impact they decided to see if there was a chance to bring it to rural libraries.”

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The exhibit comes to Austin via a grant Wyant applied for through Southeastern Libraries Cooperating (SELCO). A Legacy-funded grant, Wyant said it was an opportunity to get this very important traveling exhibit featured in the Austin Public Library.

Each panel making up the “Testify” Americana Slavery to Today” display at the Austin Public Library comes with information about the piece as well as a QR code where people can access more information.

“We felt it was pretty important to have it at our library,” she said. “Books are good at telling stories. Artifacts can also do the same thing. It can be a very factual piece of history. They can also be very objective. You can come away with your own narrative or story from it depending on if you lived through some of these times or if you haven’t.”

While the exhibit tells just a part of African American history, it’s also a mirror of a troubled past and how we as a society can rise above.

“The objects in the exhibit … juxtapose artifacts from our often-painful shared history with inspiring imagery and works of art that help us rise above it,” the late Diane Sims Page said of the collection. “By coming to grips with our past, we can come together in the future.”

For those in Austin, it’s a chance to witness through the lens of history those things that many didn’t experience. At the same time though, there are parts of this same history that have parallels.

“We certainly have quite a bit going on whether it was indigenous people or people of color,” Wyant Schmitt said. “I think it’s really important that we look at the whole of America that way and then you can come up with your perspective as well.”

A dramatic and eye-opening exhibit, Wyant Schmitt said that those who peruse the exhibit will have a chance to learn more about an often painful time in American history.

By seeing this part of history, she hopes that people will take away from it a sense of understanding about where we’ve come from and where we’re going.

“That piece, that empathy of getting rid of some of that decisiveness,” she said. “Everyone comes from a different storyline and maybe the come away understanding that and respecting that.”

Wyant added that she hopes to have a pair of speakers appear at the library to augment the exhibit this month, though those plans haven’t been solidified yet.

The exhibit is free of charge to walk through.