January 30, 2015 08:06 UTC

American Mosaic

Art and History Meet in African-American Exhibit at Museum

Art in the Kinsey Collection includes this 1990 woodcut 'The Faces of My People' by artist Margaret Burroughs
Art in the Kinsey Collection includes this 1990 woodcut 'The Faces of My People' by artist Margaret Burroughs

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DOUG JOHNSON: Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC in VOA Special English.

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I'm Doug Johnson.

This week we play love songs for Valentine’s Day…

And answer a question from China about bullet train development in the United States…

But first an exploration of African American history at the Kinsey Collection exhibit in Washington.

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DOUG JOHNSON: February is Black History Month in the United States. The central message this year is African Americans and the Civil War. Two hundred thousand blacks joined the Union Army of the North to fight the Southern separatist Confederate Army. Their wives, mothers and sisters supported them in many ways. Yet their stories are not widely known.

An exhibit in Washington, D.C., holds important clues to this history and more about blacks in America. Faith Lapidus has our report.

The Kinsey Collection

FAITH LAPIDUS: The National Museum of African American History and Culture is presenting the exhibit. It is called “The Kinsey Collection: Shared Treasures of Bernard and Shirley Kinsey – Where Art and History Intersect.”

It is being shown at the NMAAHC gallery at the National Museum of American History on the National Mall. The National Museum of African American History and Culture is to begin building its own center next year.

Bernard and Shirley Kinsey began collecting African American art and historical objects in the nineteen seventies. Bernard Kinsey says it started with an old document sent to him by a friend.

BERNARD KINSEY: “It was a bill of sale from William Johnson, eighteen thirty-two, for five hundred dollars. And when I opened that Fed-Ex up and held this document in my hand it was like I was holding this brother in my hand. And I said I want to know everything about him, and how he lived and this period. And that just started this deep and wide quest.”

The bill of sale is in a part of the show called “Stories of Slavery and Freedom.” The bill of sale, like many objects in this area, is extremely unsettling. The physical fact deepens the knowledge that people were once considered property.

There is a second bill of sale nearby. This time the purchaser is Henry Butler in eighteen thirty-nine. The bill shows a payment of one hundred dollars to Anne Graham of Washington, D.C. for the freedom of Henry Butler’s wife and four children. The bill states: “Signed, sealed and delivered.”

There are also a pair of shackles from around eighteen fifty. This device was placed around the ankles to restrain captives on the way from Africa to the Americas. The exhibit display explains that the shackles are so small they may have been for a child.

As visitors move through the show, they move forward in time. Covers of Harpers Weekly magazine give an idea of the involvement of black men in the Union Army. One cover shows the Twentieth Colored Infantry of Eighteen Sixty-Four receiving a silk banner in New York City. The banner was made by their mothers, wives and sisters. A proud African American crowd watches the ceremony.

In the “Freedom Struggles” area, there are signs of racial separation. These include a drinking fountain sign with arrows pointing one way for “whites” and another for “colored.”

Toward the end of the exhibit visitors reach “Remembering the Faces of a People.” This joyous section includes oil paintings, woodcuts, drawings, sculpture, photographs, fabric art and more. It shows the many ways African American artists see themselves and their community.

And it was the best part of the Kinsey Collection for visitor Aaron Crenshaw, of Woodbridge, Virginia.

AARON CRENSHAW: “The touching artwork. I never knew about, never knew existed. Been in the military so I’ve seen, like, the military side. But the art factor. It’s just an eye opener, if you’ve never seen it before.”

The Kinsey Collection will be on view until through May first. For a link to the exhibit visit our website at voaspecialenglish.com.

Bullet Trains in America

DOUG JOHNSON: Our listener question this week comes from China. Ching Feng wants to know about the development of “bullet trains” in the United States.

This week, the Obama administration announced a proposal to spend fifty-three billion dollars over the next six years to build high-speed rail service in the country. President Obama first talked about the idea when he was a senator campaigning to be president.

The Acela Express trains are the only true high speed trains in America.
The Acela Express trains are the only true high speed trains in America.

Vice President Joe Biden and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced the high-speed rail plan at a train station in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Mr. Biden said it would be good for the economy. He said the government investment project would increase private business productivity.

Republicans and Democrats generally support high-speed rail service. But they disagree on whether it should be paid for with federal money or through private investment.

The chairman of the House Transportation Committee, John Mica, called the idea “embarrassing snail-speed trains to nowhere.” The Republican lawmaker from Florida supports building such systems with private money.

However, it is questionable if these trains would qualify as bullet trains. Bullet trains generally travel more than two hundred forty kilometers an hour. There are bullet trains in Japan, China and France.

But such fast trains would take a long time to put in place in the United States. Federal rules require a lot of examination for environmental and safety concerns. The other problem is expense. Super-fast trains require all new railroads and systems. Federal officials are thinking more about trains that are not so fast but could travel along improved and expanded railroads already in place.

Valentine’s Day Love Songs

DOUG JOHNSON: It is all about love on Monday in the United States. Many Americans will be celebrating Valentine’s Day February fourteenth. It is not an official holiday but lots of couples still enjoy it. They might go out to a restaurant for a candlelit dinner, or give each other candy, flowers and other romantic gifts.

And sweet music in the background is also important. Christopher Cruise plays a few love songs that are popular right now.

CHRISTOPHER CRUISE: Jamie Foxx released his album “Best Night of My Life” in late December. It went to number six on Billboard magazine’s Top Two Hundred Albums chart. Currently it is at number sixteen.

Jamie Foxx greets fans at Cowboys Stadium during Super Bowl XLV last week in Arlington, Texas.
Jamie Foxx greets fans at Cowboys Stadium during Super Bowl XLV last week in Arlington, Texas.

But one of his songs from the album is number one on Billboard’s Rhythm and Blues charts. It is a slow, sexy number called “Fall for Your Type.” Hip-hop artist Drake joins in on the song.

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Lori McKenna is a country music artist from Boston, Massachusetts. Her album “Lorraine” is number five on Billboard’s Heatseekers Albums chart. This chart presents the top-selling albums by new or developing acts or those who have never been on the charts before.

One reviewer wrote that “Lorraine” has songs describing all the ways love can break and all the ways it can heal. In one song, McKenna sings about a couple who married too young and in too much of a hurry. But, they stayed together. “You Get a Love Song” celebrates the beauty of the couple’s hard work and loyalty.

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Finally, the British folk band Mumford and Sons released “Sigh No More” in the United States a year ago. But the album remains high on the Top Two Hundred. This love song from “Sigh No More” has an unearthly sound. And the love it talks about seems to reach spiritual heights. We leave you with Mumford and Sons performing “Awake My Soul.”

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DOUG JOHNSON: I’m Doug Johnson. Our program was written and produced by Caty Weaver.

Join us again next week for AMERICAN MOSAIC, VOA’s radio magazine in Special English.

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