The National Museum of African American History and Culture recently published its LGBTQ+ Photography Collection as part of his Open Access Initiative. The launch aims to give people online access to images and data from the museum’s various collections, allowing people to learn about LGBTQ+ black history in a new way.
The LGBTQ+ Photography Collection allows people to scroll through works by Black LGBTQ+ artists, writers, and personalities within the LGBTQ+ rights movement. Many pieces in the collection derive from the harlem revival, a thriving period within African-American culture from the early 1920s to the mid-1930s. The era became the basis for many Black LGBTQ+ writers, musicians, and artists to freely express their identity. The collection raises awareness of the incredible talent of the black queer community and the struggles of intersectional discrimination they face within American society.
The museum’s literature collection includes the works of influential queer black writers such as Alain Locke’s book “The New Negro: An Interpretation“and the collection of poetry of Countee Cullen”Color.“It was these influential books that established a new period in Harlem’s black culture, a time when queer art, music, and nightlife were able to flourish.
The NMAAHC collection features photographs from all 41 issues of BLK Review. BLK was created by African-American journalist Alan Bell in the late 1980s, seeking to target a black LGBTQ+ audience. Many prominent black queer figures from the 1980s and 1990s were interviewed for the magazine, including the poet Audre Lordedisco singer Sylvester and filmmaker Marlon Riggs. Not only did BLK shine a light on LGBTQ+ black culture and art, but it became an extremely important source of HIV and AIDS information during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and 1990s. In this way, the magazine was an advocate for equality, elucidating the struggles and discrimination black people in the LGBTQ+ community faced in everyday life.
Another notable aspect of the NMAAHC collection is photography by a Black and LGBTQ+ rights activist, Ron Simmons. Simmons’ photography captures the growth of the LGBTQ+ pride movement in the 1970s and 1980s. His work features various moments of gay pride events throughout history, including images of Marsha P Johnson during a Gay Pride march in New York.
Other important photographs in the collection include Audre Lorde speaking at the third world gay conference and banners of the first national march on Washington for lesbian and gay rights. The photograph by Ron Simmons encapsulated a remarkable point in the history of the Black LGBTQ+ pride movement, reminding people today of the powerful figures who led the movement.
NMAAHC’s Open Access initiative has become an important step in giving the public greater access to the art, images, and objects that envelop African American history. This is particularly important in shining a light on the identities and lives of black LGBTQ+ artists and activists, whose stories are often suppressed.