Text and Photographs by Peggy Taylor
Andrea Davis Pinkney, award-winning children’s book author, editor, publisher, and daughter of civil rights foot soldiers, missed Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech at the 1963 March on Washington because she was waiting to be born.
“But I heard the speech from my mother’s womb,” she said as she guided the press through the New-York Historical Society’s new exhibition, Picture the Dream: The Story of the Civil Rights Movement Through Children’s Books.
As guest curator, Pinkney shared: “I raised my two children on many of these works,” pointing to the sixty books and eighty works of art included in the exhibition on view from April 1 through July 24, 2022.
Among the sixty books referenced are three written by Pinkney and illustrated by her husband Brian Pinkney, son of the renowned children’s book illustrator, Jerry Pinkney, who died last year.
“With this exhibition, we’re reaching out and inviting children to come on a journey,” Pinkney said. “A picture book is the perfect tool to entice reluctant readers as well as to stimulate conversations around race.”
But Picturing the Dream is not just for children. It is also about children; children of all races, who walked, marched, rallied, sat-in, trail-blazed, and protested for the cause. Children who took on adult burdens and were hosed, bitten, spat on, jailed, and murdered.
The exhibition is divided into three sections:
The Backward Path, focusing on the “conditions which sparked the movement.”
The Rocks are the Road, depicting the obstacles encountered and overcome.
Today’s Journeys, Tomorrow’s Promise, exploring modern-day activism.
The media employed are varied— watercolor and graphite, tempera on cardboard, colored inks on clayboard, oil and fabric collage, charcoal, digital print, digital collage, India ink on Bristol board, collage on paper.
In the exhibition, Jim Crow plays a starring role, but not only as the usual moniker for racial segregation. Three of the illustrations depict Jim Crow as a literal bird—black, evil and menacing, “his pecking, thorny beak keeping us apart,” said Pinkney.
Jim Crow flourished, not only in the South, but also in the North, so the exhibition displays a copy of the Negro Travelers’ Green Book, a must for vacationing Black families searching for hospitable lodgings and amenities. Visitors are invited to browse through the book’s pages and find the safe haven motels, hotels, and restaurants in their states.
The last gallery explores the evolution of the Civil Rights Movement into the Black Lives Matter Movement and offers works illustrating artists’ desire for racial harmony and for realizing Dr. King’s Dream.
The gallery also offers a cozy reading nook where visitors can browse through the books, reflect and be charmed.
The New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West at 77th Street
Phone: (212) 873-3400