Five Minutes With Dr. Harry Robinson Jr.: African American Museum President, CEO

This article first appeared in Texas Lifestyle Magazine on January 20, 2020.

As the African American Museum in Dallas celebrates its 45th anniversary, the Kinsey African American Art & History Collection is making a stop in the Lone Star State.

Since its opening, the African American Museum in Dallas has become a cultural icon and the only museum in the Southwestern United States devoted to the collection, preservation and display of African American artistic, cultural and historical materials.

New Orleans native Dr. Harry Robinson Jr. has helped turn the museum into a nationally recognized destination for people to experience and gain insight into the deep-rooted African American culture. As a Library Science graduate from Atlanta University, Robinson researched volumes of African American history, making him a legend in his field.

Bernard Kinsey (back), Shirly Kinsey (center) and Khalil Kinsey (front) admire just one of the many items they have collected and included in the Kinsey African American Art & History Collection on display now at the African American Museum in Dallas. Photo courtesy Kinsey African American Art & History Collection Dallas

The African American Museum incorporates a wide variety of visual art forms and historical documents portraying the African American experience. With a small, but rich, collection of African art and one of the largest African American folk-art collections, the Kinsey African American Art & History Collection will add life-changing experiences to the culture of the museum. “Being able to share this powerful retrospective of African American history and culture that shaped our country is especially meaningful as the African American Museum marks its 45th year,” says Dr. Robinson.

Under his leadership, Dr. Robinson has successfully brought countless collections, programs and archives to the African American Museum that highlight the significant historical contributions and influence African American people have made and continue to make on the United States.

The Kinsey African American Art & History Collection exhibit is at the African American Museum in Dallas now through March 1.

What has been the biggest change to the museum since opening in 1974?

The biggest change was in 1993 when we secured a larger facility in Fair Park. Since then, it has become more than just a museum with activities not found at a typical museum! It’s a gathering place, a community hub and, any day of the week, you’ll find meetings, activities, forums, educational programs of all kinds, conferences and symposiums on African American history and culture. And we’re also one of the most popular special event rental spots in Dallas/Fort Worth.

What do you believe is the most significant aspect of the Kinsey Collection?

The intersection of art and history. I haven’t known of another exhibition where both are represented so comprehensively and in such a balanced manner. This collection tells the forgotten moments and accomplishments of African American people that you won’t find in textbooks.

The Benjamin Banneker 1796 Almanac, which is only one of six almanacs the self-taught and free African American author published, will be available for public viewing at the African American Museum in Dallas. Photo courtesy Kinsey African American Art & History Collection

Are you excited about a specific part of the Kinsey Collection?

I’m thrilled about the historical part. We’ve done a lot of major exhibitions showcasing African American art that go back 150 or so years, but we’ve never had an exhibition that included artifacts representing 400 years of history. You’ll find incredible items like a 1595 baptismal record and a lot of records from the days of slavery and the civil rights movement.

How does the Kinsey Collection impact today’s culture?

It speaks to the curiosity of people who only have a cursory knowledge of African American history and culture, and I think it creates an urge for them to learn more. A lot of students see the exhibition and find it surreal. They don’t believe what they see, so it’s crucial they’re exposed to this important part of American history.

What can visitors take away from viewing the collection?

We hope they’ll leave with a desire to dig deeper into the history and culture of African American people, but we also want them to come back to the Museum! We have some exciting exhibitions coming up this year, plus our permanent collection provides a comprehensive look at the history of African Americans in North Texas.

Cover: Dr. Harry Robinson Jr., photo courtesy African American Museum