Toshi Reagon. Photo by Desdemona Burgin.
The year 2020 was like no other, from the devastation wrought by COVID-19 to the political turmoil and nationwide protests against systemic racism and injustice that erupted after the brutal killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor. This February, we celebrate Black stories and voices by highlighting a selection of content produced over the past several months.
President’s Series: Octavia E. Butler’s Parables: A Music Talk with Toshi Reagon
In January 2020, as part of The Huntington’s President’s Series, Toshi Reagon, the acclaimed composer and lyricist, came to The Huntington to discuss her operatic adaption of Octavia E. Butler’s science fiction novel Parable of the Sower. Watch here.
Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Greenhouse Fantasies, 2014. Oil on canvas, 28 x 24 in. © Lynette Yiadom-Boakye. Courtesy of the artist, Jack Shainman Gallery, New York and Corvi-Mora, London.
The Hilton Als Series: Lynette Yiadom-Boakye
An installation of contemporary British paintings of fictional Black characters by Lynette Yiadom-Boakye came to The Huntington in February 2020. The five pieces were juxtaposed with The Huntington’s collection of 18th-century British portraits in the Thornton Portrait Gallery. The exhibition was curated by Pulitzer Prize–winning author Hilton Als, staff writer and theater critic for The New Yorker magazine and associate professor of writing at Columbia University. Read more and watch here.
Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden in conversation with Huntington President Karen R. Lawrence. Photo by Sarah M. Golonka.
Why It Matters: Karen R. Lawrence In Conversation with Carla Hayden
Just before the world ground to a halt in March, Huntington President Karen R. Lawrence spoke with Carla Hayden, Librarian of Congress, about why archives and libraries exist and why the work they do continues to be important. Hayden is the first woman and the first African American to lead the national library; she was nominated to the position by President Barack Obama on February 24, 2016. Watch or listen here.
Letter addressed by Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin (1761–1849) to William Ellery (1727–1820), the collector of customs in Newport, Rhode Island, on July 14, 1809. The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens.
“Release the Vessel & Cargo”
In a June 2020 Verso post, Olga Tsapina, the Norris Foundation Curator of American History at The Huntington, closely examined a letter from 1809 that encapsulates the toxic nexus of race, human bondage, and privilege, and bears witness to the painful history of slavery in the United States. The letter, written by Secretary of the Treasury Albert Alphonse Gallatin (1761–1849), is part of the Shapiro Collection, acquired by The Huntington in 2019. Read more.
Loren Miller, seated at desk, ca. 1950. Unknown photographer. Loren Miller Collection. The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens.
Loren Miller’s Extraordinary Fight for Civil Rights in America
Loren Miller was one of the most important lawyers of the Civil Rights era. Episode 4 of The Huntington’s podcast series Hear and Now at The Huntington, released in September 2020, explores Miller’s history and legacy. Listen here. (All episodes of Hear and Now are available as close-captioned videos on The Huntington’s YouTube channel.)
Namwali Serpell, professor of literature at Harvard University. Photo courtesy of Namwali Serpell. Credit: Yanina Gotsulsky.
Martin Ridge Lecture in Literature: Black Matter
In November 2020, Namwali Serpell—professor of English at Harvard University, author of The Old Drift, and recipient of the Arthur C. Clarke award for the best science fiction novel published in the United Kingdom—discussed the origins of Afrofuturism in a Zoom lecture. Listen here.
Lucy Spriggs is the marketing manager in the Office of Communications and Marketing at The Huntington.