James Pickens, Jr., Khalil Kinsey, Shirley Kinsey, Chandra Wilson, and Bernard Kinsey at the Kinsey Collection Epcot reception (Photo courtesy Walt Disney World)

*ORLANDO, FL — Bernard and Shirley Kinsey are guided by the principals of “to whom much is given, much is required,” and strive to live “a life of no regrets.”

Buoyed by their mutual admiration for history, education and activism this married couple — who has been together for more than four decades resulting in having raised millions of dollars for numerous organizations and college programs, including their alma mater, Florida A&M University – have amassed one of the largest private collections of African American art consisting of rare art, documents, books, artifacts and artwork spanning 400 years of history.  This shared passion for African American history, art and culture makes up the estimable Kinsey Collection.

In celebration of African American achievement and contribution, Walt Disney is proud to present “Re-Discovering America: Family Treasures from the Kinsey Collection” at its American Adventure pavilion of Epcot at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.

The iconic collection that is another example of Disney’s commitment to offering experiences that reflect diverse cultures opened March 8, 2013 with Bernard and Shirley Kinsey surrounded by loving family and friends and community and business leaders from Central Florida who helped celebrate the opening of this expansive collection showing the philanthropic couple’s passion for the history of their people.  Musical selections from Orlando’s Jones High School Master Singers set the glorious tone for a spiritually uplifting time of celebration.

“The exhibit is an inspiring reminder of how diverse our nation is and how many stories there are beyond the pages of history books,” said Dr. Robert Spooney, president of the African American Chamber of Commerce of Central Florida, who attended the event.

To enrich the immersive storytelling experience of the exhibit, Walt Disney Imagineers added interactive displays placed throughout the exhibit to further explore the art, artifacts and history in which Epcot guests can deepen their knowledge of the American heritage that the Kinsey holdings represent.

Epcot guests will be able to use touch screens placed throughout the exhibit to further explore the art, artifacts and history.  Guest-activated lanterns will help bring the history to life, with narration provided by and actors Chandra Wilson & James Pickens, Jr. (“Grey’s Anatomy”) who both attended the grand opening at Epcot; and Academy Award-winner Whoopi Goldberg (“The View”), Diane Sawyer (“ABC World News with Diane Sawyer”), Kerry Washington (“Scandal”), Zendaya Coleman & Roshon Fegan (“Shake It Up”), China Anne McClain (“A.N.T. Farm”), and Tyrel Jackson Williams (“Lab Rats”).

Themed to hope, belief, courage, imagination and heritage, the pride-filled exhibit provides optimistic and empowering stories from American history from voices that are not commonly seen or heard.  Art and artifacts pay homage to African Americans who helped build and transform a nation.  Their stories of determination and courage, as their struggles for equality and civil rights, are at the heart of the proud display from those who struggled from the nation’s early days to the present, are at the heart of the exhibit and evoke unbridled pride.

The Kinsey private collection has been displayed throughout the U.S., including in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.  Approximately 40 pieces will be on display for Epcot guests at any given time on a rotating basis during the exhibit run.

“We always wanted to extend the reach of the Collection to a larger, more international and diverse audience,” explained Bernard Kinsey.  “So we are delighted to be collaborating with Disney to share the stories of our remarkable ancestors.”

Overseeing the collection is the Kinseys’ son, Khalil Kinsey, whose school-age curiosity about the Kinsey family tree inspired his parents to build their collection.  The American Adventure pavilion is in the heart of the World Showcase area of Epcot.  “Re-Discovering America: Family Treasures from the Kinsey Collection” is included in Epcot admission.  For more:

“We are thrilled to bring the Kinsey Collection to Epcot guests,” said Jim MacPhee, senior vice president, Walt Disney World Parks.  “Epcot is such a rich cultural tapestry that it serves as the perfect showcase for this powerful collection, with its celebration of the human spirit.”


The Kinsey Collection: Shared Treasures of Bernard and Shirley Kinsey – Where Art and History Intersect book layout (Photo courtesy Kinsey Collection)

With education as a goal, The Kinsey Collection has been on national tour since 2007, and has been seen by over 3 million visitors.  The collection has exhibited at the California African American Museum, The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, The DuSable Museum of African American History, The Norton Museum of Art, The Mary Brogan Museum of Art and Science, and the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.  The collection has been cited in 3 national awards including the President’s National Award for Museum and Library Services.  Among highlights of each themed gallery:

HOPE:  By age 19, Phillis Wheatley became internationally known as the first African American ever to publish a book of poetry (1773).  She wrote poetry about hope and freedom and is now known as The Mother of African American Literature. (Document on display: Phyllis Wheatley’s first book).  Other Hope Gallery highlights: Samuel Francis Smith, My Country ‘Tis of Thee lyrics (1895); “Untitled,” Hughie Lee Smith (1951); Almanack, Benjamin Banneker (1796).

COURAGE:  Harriet Jacobs, an enslaved young black woman often called an “American Anne Frank” stayed seven years in a tiny attic until she could escape to freedom.  She later chronicled her story in an autobiography.  (Document on display: Harriet Jacobs’ book, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, 1862).  Other Courage Gallery highlights: Sea Island Woman, fiber art, Bisa Butler (2006); Loss, sculpture, Michael Chukes (1998).

BELIEF:  In 1870, only seven years after Emancipation, Hiram Rhodes Revels became the first African American to represent Mississippi in the U.S. Senate. Josiah Walls became the first African American to represent Florida in the House of Representatives. (Document on display: “Senator Hiram Rhodes Revels Cabinet Card Photograph”).  Other Belief Gallery highlights: Buffalo Soldiers Parade Flag (1889); What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking, Abby Fisher (1881); A Negro Explorer at the North Pole, Matthew Henson book (1912) and article.

IMAGINATION:  Alain Locke not only became the first African-American Rhodes scholar in 1907, but his book “The New Negro” helped inspire the Harlem Renaissance, a period in American culture that produced artists, musicians, writers and thinkers that showed the world how American greatness comes from all of its citizens.  (Document on display: The Negro in Art, by Alain Locke).  Other Imagination Gallery highlights: Harmon Foundation Catalogs (1931-1935); American Beach Negro Ocean Playground, Florida – Steel plaque (1930); “Untitled” (Kadir Nelson, 1992).

HERITAGE:  History can be shared through many types of artifacts.  Sometimes it’s as simple as a timeworn letter written by Carrie Kinsey (Bernard’s cousin) to President Roosevelt.  Or an old sewing machine passed down through generations by Shirley’s grandmother, Susie Plummer Pooler. (Document on display: “Letter to President Roosevelt,” by Carrie Kinsey).  Other Heritage Gallery highlights: Bill of Sale-William Johnson (1832); Schedule of Over 500 Slaves (1820); Sewing Machine (1900), Susie Plummer Pooler.

The Kinsey Collection: Shared Treasures of Bernard and Shirley Kinsey – Where Art and History Intersect, now in its 3rd edition is a 198-page must read, that tells the story of the African American experience from 1632-present through original art, artifacts, and historical documents.  The Kinsey Collection coffee table book has been adopted by the Florida Department of Education to teach African American history to students in grades K-12 statewide.  The curriculum is available through iTunes U.  An EBook (Enhanced Book) application is in development for iPad and other tablet platforms that will be available in early 2013.

One of the few published works that includes many overlooked and often untold stories of African American achievement and contribution, The Kinsey Collection makes an excellent teaching tool, gift, or resource for personal discovery and inspiration.  The book includes works of art by important African American artists such as Romare Bearden, Elizabeth Catlett, Sam Gilliam, Artis Lane, William H. Johnson and Henry O. Tanner; as well as historical documents from the seventeenth century and artifacts by Frederick Douglass, Phyllis Wheatley, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Alain Locke, Malcolm X and many others

This incredible book serves as the companion to The Kinsey Collection exhibit.  The Kinsey Collection exhibit and book has been adopted by the Florida Department of Education to teach African American history for grades K-12 throughout the state.

Audrey J. Bernard is an established chronicler of Black society and Urban happenings based in the New York City area.

audrey bernard

Audrey J. Bernard