by CAROLYN L. MAZLOOMI
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Why this exhibit at this time? 0n January 8, 2018, President Donald Trump signed into law The 400 Years of African-American History Commission Act, appointing a commission to arrange celebration of the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first Africans in the English colonies. This year-long celebration recognizes and highlights the resilience and cultural contributions of Africans and African Americans over 400 years to America. 2019 serves as a year to acknowledge the painful impact that slavery and laws that enforced racial discrimination had on the United States and its African American citizens. This year America will celebrate the contributions of African Americans. The history of African Americans is filled with tragedies that have shaped the black experience in America; however African Americans have contributed to the social, cultural economic, academic, and moral well-being of this nation. Colonel Charles Young is a little known unsung hero, who offers up courage and perseverance during an extremely difficult time in our nation’s history for its African American citizens. The life of Col. Charles Young most certainly highlights the resilience and contributions of African Americans in a significant way.
The exhibited narrative quilts provide a visual diary of Col. Charles Young’s life. Young’s life is filled with extraordinary accomplishments. He graduated at sixteen at the top of his high school class; could speak several languages, including Spanish, Greek, Spanish, German and Latin; he taught high school and college; he was the third African American to graduate from West Point; received the NAACP Sprigarn Medal for his service as an attaché in Liberia; There he helped Liberia to build the country’s infrastructure; the first African American U. S. Park Service Superintendent of Sequoia and Grant National Parks; leader of the Buffalo Soldier Regiment; he led his squadron and defeated Pancho Villa’s forces in Mexico without losing a single soldier; became the second honorary member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity; and was a talented musician and composer.
In 1903, Captain Charles Young became the first African American to appointed to serve as superintendent of a national park. Col. Young lead five-hundred men from the Buffalo Soldier Regiment to drive timber wolves and poachers from Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks. Under Young’s commend, the soldiers enforced the law, protected the tourists, cut new trails, and protected natural resources. Young’s incredible contributions to American history and the U. S. National Park Service prompted President Obama to choose his home in historic Wilberforce, Ohio, as the site of the National Buffalo Soldier Monument. The monument was once the private home of Col. Young and his family.
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Why use quilts to tell Col. Young’s story? Quilting is one of America’s most powerful art forms because of its widespread appeal and association with comfort, warmth, and healing. Quilts and quilt making are important to America and Black culture in particular, because the art form was historically one of the few mediums accessible to marginalized groups to tell their own story, to provide warmth for their families, and to empower them with a voice through cloth. Choosing quilts as the visual medium for this exhibit accentuates the intersections of African American contributions to American cultural production while at once informing others about the art form and its role in African American history. Story quilts, are great vehicles to tell the African American story because they link us to ancestral traditions and help us to appreciate the value of various forms of oral history.
For the African American viewer, the Yours for Race and Country is a validating expression of cultural genius. For viewers external to the culture, it is an awakening to the unknown and uncelebrated contributions of an extraordinary man, Col. Charles Young. Women of Color Quilters Network and Friends are proud to provide an unprecedented visual learning experience, by intersecting art with African American history and underscoring their importance to our common and shared American reality. It is this often unknown and underappreciated shared reality that must be voiced if we are ever to truly value the unique contributions diverse groups make to the fabric of our nation. We empower the memory and accomplishments of Col. Charles Young with voice through cloth as we continue to tell the story of African Americans.
This exhibition is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Additional support provided by Sara and Michelle Vance Waddell Fund.