Revolutionary African-American men

Men of Change: Power, Triumph, Truth

By Alec Clayton on January 23, 2020

Iconic African-American men are saluted in this traveling exhibition from the Smithsonian.

"We are honored and thrilled to feature Men of Change: Power, Triumph, Truth. As of now, we're one of only two museums on the West Coast that will host this phenomenal exhibition (from the Smithsonian). We encourage everyone to come see it and to learn about these change-makers," said Washington State Historical Society Director Jennifer Kilmer.

"These are some hard truths," said Mary Mikel Stump from the Historical Society.

Featured in the exhibition are portraits, biographies and little-known stories about many of the most important Black men in America's history. These iconic figures are pictured with written words, photographs and 29 original works of art made especially for this exhibition. Included are boxer and activist Muhammad Ali, writer James Baldwin, writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, political powerhouse W.E.B. Du Boise. The lives and works of famous and the little-known men alike are highlighted. Such as historian Carter G. Woodson and Black Panther writer and director Ryan Coogler; basketball star and activist Lebron James; artist Romare Bearden and jazz greats Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis; civil rights leader Andrew Young and comedian/activist Dick Gregory; and one of America's greatest playwrights, August Wilson, who made his home in Seattle.

Visitors will be inspired and awed by these towering men of history and will be enlightened by many little-known stories. For instance, who knew that Bearden, admired for his daring art, was once a baseball player? Before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball, Bearden was given a chance to play in the majors -- but with one stipulation: being light-skinned, he was asked to pass as white. He turned down that opportunity.

There is a wonderful painting of Bearden by Patrick Earl Hammie, who breaks Bearden's face into prismatic sections.

Basketballer Lebron James is depicted by artist Shaun Leonardo by larger-than-life-size hands, not handling a basketball but during a speech at the opening of his school.

Painter Robert Pruitt depicts Ta-Nehisi Coates with a painting called "Monumental" which pictures not Coates but an unidentified woman with a colorful map covering and hiding her head. Her dress is antebellum, and the map outlines redlining for discriminatory housing practices. "I have attempted to emulate Coates' spirit of clarity through my approach and references to ideas of home, property and architecture," Pruitt writes. 

A museum statement summarizes: "The exhibition weaves a collective tapestry of what it is to be an African American man and the shared experience of African American men across generations." 

MEN OF CHANGE: POWER, TRIUMPH, TRUTH, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday-Sunday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., third Thursday, through March 15, $14; $11 seniors, students, military; free to Washington State Historical Society members and children 5 and younger, Washington State History Museum, 1911 Pacific Ave., Tacoma,