Kinsey Collection Featured at Reginald F. Lewis Museum

Four Hundred Years of History on Display

Stacy M. Brown | 11/6/2013, 3 p.m.
Philanthropist couple Bernard and Shirley Kinsey spent nearly three decades gathering as many as 400 authentic and rare works of ...
Black Girl Jumping Rope, Huey Lee Smith, 1951 (Courtesy of the Kinsey Collection)

The collection also features the 1862 biography of Harriet Jacobs, a runaway slave who hid in an attic for seven years to avoid a vicious slave owner.

Letters from Zora Neale Hurston, an anthropologist and author during the Harlem Renaissance; Martin Luther King Jr., a first-edition copy of poems by Phillis Wheatley, and 17th-century slave documents also count among the notable items featured in the vast collection.

Works by African-American artists such as Romare Bearden, Henry O. Tanner, Richmond Barthe, Lois Mailou Jones, Richard Mayhew, Artis Lane, and Jacob Lawrence are also included in Kinsey’s mementos, which he and his wife collected over more than 30 years.

“The Kinsey Collection is one of the more diverse collections of African-American art and artifacts in the country,” said Michelle Joan Wilkinson, director of collections and exhibitions at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum.

“Bernard and Shirley Kinsey have taken care to select items that paint a broad picture of the many accomplishments that African Americans have made to our nation and the world. We are especially proud that Marylander Frederick Douglass is among those who are featured,” Wilkinson said.

Curators weren’t the only individuals to express enthusiasm for the collection.

“I am especially excited about the Kinsey Collection because it provides unique access to authentic documents that allow us to relive major historical moments,” said Skip Saunders, executive director for the Reginald F. Lewis Museum.

“It is a privilege for us to bring an exhibition to Maryland that has gained so much prominence throughout the country,” Saunders said.

Born in West Palm Beach, Fla., and now living in Los Angeles with his wife, Bernard Kinsey founded KBK Enterprises, Inc., a management consultant firm which provides advice to senior-level business executives. He currently serves as president of the firm.

Kinsey attended Florida A&M University where he met his wife, Shirley.

After graduating in 1967, he landed a job as the first African-American sales representative for Humble Oil Company, which later became part of the Exxon Corporation in Irving, Texas.

Because of the job, Kinsey and his wife moved to Los Angeles, where he immediately found success, becoming Humble Oil's top sales representative.

In 1971, Kinsey left Humble Oil to join the Xerox Corporation as a field service manager, where he and a group of black employees protested the promotion of a lesser-qualified white employee over an African American with supervisory experience and a college degree.

Due to the protest, Xerox changed direction and promoted the African American employee and the actions of Kinsey and the other employees later resulted in the creation of the Xerox Black Employees Organization, a union co-founded by Kinsey.

Within 10 years, Kinsey would become a vice president at Xerox.

In 1992, he became chief operating officer and co-chairman of Rebuild Los Angeles (RLA), under former Major League Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth.

RLA's mission included bringing jobs, economic opportunities, and pride to an area that had been devastated by the 1992 Los Angeles riots, which began after four white police officers were acquitted in the brutal beating of motorist Rodney King, who died in June 2012.