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Schomburg Center Celebrates Obama First Anniversary with Souza and Pinkney Exhibitions




Schomburg Center Celebrates Obama First Anniversary with Souza and Pinkney Exhibitions

365 Days: 390 Years in the Making
February 5 to April 18, 2010

New York, N.Y. – Barack Obama’s first year as President of the United States will be celebrated with two major exhibitions mounted by the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture under the collective theme: 365 Days: 390 Years in the Making.

Barack Obama: The First Year, featuring photographs by Chief Official White House Photographer Pete Souza, begins with the festive inaugural ball evening on January 20, 2009 and moves through the next 364 days.  African-American Journey to Freedom will provide historical context with watercolors by illustrator and artist Jerry Pinkney, winner of the American Library Association’s prestigious 2010 Caldecott Medal.  The exhibitions open to the public on Friday, February 5 and will be on view through April 18 in the Schomburg Exhibition Hall and the Latimer/Edison Gallery.

“The Schomburg Center is pleased to present these two stunning visual records of African-American service and achievement as its 2010 contribution to the commemoration of Black History Month,” said noted historian Howard Dodson, Director of the Schomburg Center, “the Souza photographs and the Pinckney watercolors are together an excellent introduction to Barack Obama’s first year as President and the centuries-long struggles of African Americans that made it possible.”

Barack Obama: The First Year provides an intimate look at the President’s first year in office, as photographed by Pete Souza, also Director of the White House photo office. Out of thousands of photographs, Souza, who has exceptional access to the President, carefully selected 77 of his favorites. This exhibition will mark the first time that these unique, arresting images, shot through January 2010, have been presented to the public as a collection with Souza’s personal comments.

In candid shots the exhibition captures behind-the-scene moments, with attention to details; from the intricacies of a wedding band, to the playful times of a father with his young children, or high drama aboard Air Force One. Pete Souza’s own captions add exceptionally rich background information on each scene as he lived the events he was seeing through his lens. Souza uses his own voice, not official, administrative descriptions, which gives each image a lively, fresh feel that enables viewers to establish a more personal connection with his work.

“My job is to photographically document for history the presidency of Barack Obama, said Souza, “as the Chief Official White House Photographer, I photograph every meeting and event on the President’s schedule. But I also try to capture the intimate moments of his day that help convey a better sense of what he is like as a person.” About the intimate quality of his photographs, Souza stressed, “this administration has been far and away the most open about making behind-the-scenes photographs available right away to the public. This exhibit is one example of that openness. My hope is that through these photographs you will have an inside look at what only I see every day.”

But before Barack Obama, there were Crispus Attucks, David Walker, Sojourner Truth and a host of ordinary people, heroes and heroines nonetheless, of the African-American struggle for freedom and human dignity, fighting to make America and American democracy real for all of its citizens. Jerry Pinkney's African-American Journey to Freedom retraces this epic story.

Pinkney, who will be present at the VIP preview on February 4, stresses, “African-American history and culture takes up the most space in my body of work. This springs from my childhood. Over the years I have been fortunate to create works for a variety of subjects. Each project, at its best, enhances and enlarges how I perceive the world. Yet it is those projects which speak to the African American narrative that give me a since of purpose and the most satisfaction.” 


Pinkney’s watercolors illustrate a wide range of people, as well as major events in African-American history; from colonial times to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Its first section, “Fighting on Land and Sea,” covers African-American participation in the country’s Revolutionary War. As soldiers, sailors, laborers, and spies, enslaved and free men, women, and children such as Crispus Attucks, Prince Whipple who crossed the Delaware with George Washington, and spy John Armistead contributed to the war effort. African Americans were there at the founding of the nation but did not get anything in return.

The second section, “Fighting With the Pen,” retraces African Americans’ pursuit

of freedom through petitions, education, pamphlets and the building of institutions such as the Black Church and the Masons. Prominent among the people who led these legal battles were Richard Allen, who became founder and first bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) denomination and Absalom Jones with whom he founded the Free African Society, and later established the African Church of Philadelphia; David Walker who published David Walker’s Appeal denouncing slavery, and Dred Scott who fought for his freedom all the way to the Supreme Court. 

In the third section “Searching for Freedom in the West,” Pinkney portrays the black explorers, pioneers, settlers, scouts, and cowboys who went West hoping to find the freedom that was denied them in the South; from York who was part of Lewis and Clark’s expedition to famous cowboy Nat Love and pioneer women Biddy Mason and Clara  Brown. The fourth section, “From Emancipation to Civil Rights” starts with the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 and after a journey through Black Nationalism, the Great Migration and the Civil Rights Movement, ends with the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Jerry Pinkney’s 35 watercolors were originally commissioned by Joseph E. Seagram and Sons, Inc. in the mid-1970s for a series of Black Historical Calendars. This beautiful and inspiring artwork is part of a larger donation made by Vivendi to the Schomburg Center, and will be housed in the Art & Artifacts Division.

Related Programs: 

Jerry Pinkney Book Signing
Saturday, February 6 at 3:00pm

Jerry Pinkney will sign his book The Lion and the Mouse, which received the prestigious Randolph Caldecott Award on January 18, 2010; as well as Sweethearts of Rhythm; The Old African; and Black Cowboys, Wild Horses.  Books can be purchased in the Schomburg Shop.

About the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture

The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, a research unit of The New York Public Library, is generally recognized as one of the leading institutions of its kind in the world. A cultural center as well as a repository, this Harlem-based modern research library also sponsors a wide array of interpretive programs, including exhibitions, scholarly and public forums, and cultural performances. For over eighty years The Schomburg Center has collected, preserved, and provided access to materials documenting black life, and promoted the study and interpretation of black history and culture.