Resource Menu: African American History

Resource Menu: African American History

Need help finding what you are looking for? Take a look at our Resource Menus; an annotated list of VMFA resources organized by subject area. Here is a curated menu of easily accessible selected offerings relating to African American History.

Grade Level:
Adult, College, Grades 3-5, Grades 6-8, Grades 9-12, Grades K-2
Subject Area:
African American, Communication, Creative Thinking, Critical Thinking, Fine Arts, History and Social Science, Photography, Visual Arts
Activity Type:
Resource Menu

Resource Menu: African American History

The VMFA website offers many resources to support learners and teachers of all ages and many disciplines. Many are accessible through VMFA’s LEARN website. 

The following curated menu offers easily accessible selected offerings relating to African American Studies. Keep in mind that many other resources include works by African Americans—and, new resources are added all the time, so keep checking back!


PICTURING THE HARLEM RENAISSANCE WITH JAMES VANDERZEE: In the 1920s and 30s, the phenomenon known as the Harlem Renaissance brought together a community of African American artists, writers, musicians, athletes, and religious leaders in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City. The cultural ferment that grew out of their actions and interactions produced expressive new art forms—and spread social and political ideas. Their achievements changed how African Americans were perceived throughout the world, and gave them a new sense of pride and a growing commitment to political activism. 

AFRICAN AMERICAN ART AT VMFA: VMFA has a growing collection of works by African American artists, including those highlighted here. The collection features masterpieces from early American to modern and later, contemporary artists. With such a vast arch across time, these works collectively underscore the dramatic shifts in the artistic, social and political landscape and their impact upon the creative expression. 

AFRICAN AMERICAN ART AND ARTISTS: HIGHLIGHTS IN THE VMFA COLLECTION: In 1944, the VMFA acquired its first work by an African American artist. Since that time, the Museum has remained steadfast in building a collection reflective of the African American experience and expression. (Suitable for all levels.)

AFRICAN AMERICAN DREAMS: This art-based adventure explores the African American experience in North America by pairing visual and written primary sources. Written selections include poems, speeches, and other historical documents. (Recommended for K-12 students)

LESSON CONCEPT: EASTMAN JOHNSON: Explore issues such as slavery and the Civil War through creative writing about a primary source using Eastman Johnson’s painting A Ride for Liberty—The Fugitive Slaves. (Recommended for Elementary level students)


Informational hand-outs in ENGLISH and SPANISH (Recommended for K-12 students)

VIDEO: KEHINDE WILEY @ VMFA: In this 15-minute video Kehinde Wiley describes how his work raises many questions about race, gender, and the politics of representation by portraying contemporary African American men and women using the conventions of traditional European portraiture. (Recommended for secondary students)

RUMORS OF WAR: ONE YEAR LATER: The 2020-2021 Museum Leaders in Training cohort produced a video on one of VMFA’s recent acquisitions: Rumors of War by Kehinde Wilely. Working with VMFA staff, M.LiT students explored the contextualization of Wiley’s Rumors of War in Richmond and considered the themes of representation, race, gender, and power. Students interviewed VMFA staff and the staff of partner institutions, local community members, and organizers to capture and include a variety of perspectives on the subject. 

ART IN DEPTH: KEHINDE WILEY AT VMFA: Learn more about two works of art by artist Kehinde Wiley on view at VMFA! This resource includes several videos and many sections that provide historical content.

ENGAGEMENT ACTIVITIES: These 25 prompts offer opportunities for creative thinking, close looking, discovery, and inquiry-based discussions by encouraging students to push beyond what is noticeable at first glance. They are organized by four methods of exploration: Looking to Learn, Sketching to Learn, Moving to Learn, and Writing to Learn and may be combined with many different lesson concepts and curricula. 


Short videos for the classroom

VIDEO: RADCLIFFE BAILEY @ VMFA: This 5-minute video is a great complement to the Ride for Liberty creative writing activity. Bailey’s installations addresses narratives the history of the African American experience. Bailey’s own ancestors escaped slavery on the Underground Railroad by following the North Star (featured as one of many symbols in the installation). Using carefully chosen found materials Bailey promotes conversations about the Middle Passage and the American Civil War. (Recommended for Elementary level students)

ROBERT PRUITT @ VMFA: American artist Robert Pruitt discusses his inspirations, his process, and elements of the absurd in this artist talk. The interview was conducted by John B. Ravenal (Sydney and Frances Lewis Family Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art) and Sarah Eckhardt (Assistant Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art), VMFA. (3:50)

GAYE ADEGBALOLA “FRONT PORCH BLUES”: Virginia musician Gaye Todd Adegbalola was inspired by Romare Bearden’s collage, “Three Folk Musicians” to create a musical composition. Here she talks about her process and the blues genre of music. (2:41)

DENNIS WINSTON: VMFA FELLOWSHIP RECIPIENT: Artist Dennis Winston, VMFA Fellowship recipient, shares about his work and process. (6:50)

ALISON SAAR @ VMFA (1993) (2:37)

LORNA SIMPSON @ VMFA (1994) (3:04)

HANK WILLIS THOMAS @ VMFA: American artist Hank Willis Thomas discusses his work and the construction of black identity through popular culture. (4:34)


Longer Lectures

COSMOLOGIES FROM THE TREE OF LIFE: ART FROM THE AFRICAN AMERICAN SOUTH: Explore art and artists of the African American South with VMFA Curator Valerie Cassel Oliver. This lecture includes an overview of works from the exhibition, Cosmologies from the Tree of Life: Art from the African American South, which features compelling new acquisitions from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation. (46:45)

HOWARDENA PINDELL @ VMFA: (August 24, 2018)  A conversation with the renowned abstract, multidisciplinary artist about her life and her work. In conversation with Valerie Cassel Oliver of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and Naomi Beckwith of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, co-curators of the exhibit, “Howardena Pindell: What Remains to Be Seen.” (56:45)

CHESTER HIGGINS @ VMFA: Photographer Chester Higginssees his “life as a narrative and [his]photography as its expression.” Friday, Feb 16, 2018. (1:07:11)


African American Art Exhibition Resources

WORKING TOGETHER: LOUIS DRAPER AND THE KAMOINGE WORKSHOP: This link takes you to the online presentation of this exhibition, which opened at VMFA on Feb 1, 2020. Featured videos include a virtual tour of the exhibition.

Working Together features more than 150 photographs by Richmond-born artist Louis Draper and other members of the Kamoinge Workshop, a collective of ground-breaking African American photographers he helped found in 1963. 

LAYERS OF LOUIS: This digital resource was developed by Museum Leaders in Training (M.LiT) program participants to complement VMFA’s exhibition Working Together: Louis Draper and the Kamoinge Workshop. The timeline focuses on events during and surrounding Louis Draper’s life. 

LOUIS H. DRAPER ARCHIVE PORTAL: This archive consists of more than 6,600 items (representing more than 50,000 images), including photographs, negatives, contact sheets, slides, computer disks, audiovisual materials, and camera equipment.

BEUFORD SMITH ARCHIVE: Smith joined the Kamoinge Workshop in 1965. He was the founder and chief photo editor of the Black Photographers Annual

THE BLACK PHOTOGRAPHERS ANNUAL: From 1973 to 1980, a group of African American artists in New York City published The Black Photographers Annual. The idea emerged from the collective of African American photographers known as the Kamoinge Workshop (Kamoinge, from the Kikuyu language of Kenya, means “to work together”). The forty-nine artists featured in the books, however, far exceeded the boundaries of the collective.

THE DIRTY SOUTH: CONTEMPORARY ART, MATERIAL CULTURE, AND THE SONIC IMPULSE: This link takes you to online information about this exhibition, which was featured  at VMFA from May 22 to September 6, 2021.Explore the themes of The Dirty South with selected examples of visual artwork and music. Discover how Black artists and musical legends draw upon visual, sonic, and material traditions to unpack what it means to be in and a part of the Dirty South.

OPENING TALK: WORKING TOGETHER: LOUIS DRAPER AND THE KAMOINGE WORKSHOP: Dr. Sarah Eckhardt, curator of Working Together: Louis Draper and the Kamoinge Workshop provides an overview of the exhibition that features photography from the Kamoinge Workshop, an artist collective founded in New York City in 1963. Nell Draper-Winston, sister of the photographer Louis Draper, joins Dr. Eckhardt in conversation to discuss her brother’s photographs and his roots in Richmond. (14:00)

CELEBRATION OF PHOTOGRAPHY WITH BEAUFORD SMITH AND SHAWN WALKER: Watch Dr. Sarah Eckhardt, VMFA’s Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, in conversation with photographers Beuford Smith and Shawn Walker, whose works are featured in the current exhibition, A Commitment to the Community: The Black Photographers Annual, Volume I. Smith, the founder and chief photography editor of The Black Photographers Annual, worked closely with Walker who served as a picture editor for this key publication that ran from 1973 through 1980. (1:30:17)

LEROY HENDERSON @ VMFA: LeRoy Henderson discusses his life and work documenting American protest culture with Dr. Sarah Eckhardt, Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, on Thursday, February 16, 2017 at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. (1:04:08)

SYMPOSIUM: KAMOINGE WORKSHOP: COLLARBORATION, COMMUNITY, AND PHOTOGRAPHY: The museum presented weekly panel discussions with Kamoinge artists and scholars to contextualize and address Kamoinge’s role in the history of 20th-century photography, and the Black Arts Movement, as well as the social and professional challenges faced by black photographers working in the field. This program was inspired by the special exhibition, Working Together: Louis Draper and The Kamoinge Workshop.

Day 1: Virtual Symposium | Kamoinge Workshop: Collaboration, Community, and Photography | September 3, 2020 (1:54:02)

Day 2: Virtual Symposium | Kamoinge Workshop: Collaboration, Community, and Photography | Sep 10, 2020 (2:02:53)

Day 3: Virtual Symposium | Kamoinge Workshop: Collaboration, Community, and Photography | Sep 17, 2020 (1:25:27)

Day 4: Virtual Symposium | Kamoinge Workshop: Collaboration, Community, and Photography | Sep 24, 2020 (2:02:34)

Day 5: Virtual Symposium | Kamoinge Workshop: Collaboration, Community, and Photography | October 1, 2020 (2:00:26)

Day 6: Virtual Symposium | Kamoinge Workshop: Collaboration, Community, and Photography | October 8, 2020 (1:46:24)

Day 7: Virtual Symposium | Kamoinge Workshop: Collaboration, Community, and Photography | October 15, 2020 (1:02:13)