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The Exhibit

Men of Change: Power. Triumph. Truth. is bold contemporary art, photographs, quotes and literary excerpts, and essential stories.

Men of Change is about revolutionary men.

Men of Change weaves history into the moment: learn about the impact of these men and their roots in rich community traditions.

Men of Change represents by naming others—men and women—who signify the powerful African American journey. This innovative exhibition invites visitors to weigh what we're told with what is authentic—in history, politics, art, culture, and activism. 

Take an Inside Look

Men of Change: Power. Triumph. Truth. 
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, Cincinnati, Ohio 
August 17 – Dec. 1, 2019 
Courtesy Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service. Photo by Phil Armstrong. 

Exhibit Themes

Storytellers
Storytellers
We own our stories by telling our stories.

The narrative of African American existence has been edited by an oppressive pen. Yet, the men you’ll encounter within this exhibit have consistently asserted their own storyline, one that ignores lies and protects the truth by illuminating the strength, genius, and elegance of black life. From Frederick Douglass to Dr. King, and from James Baldwin to James Brown, the power of African American storytelling offers an array of narratives that contain the unwavering truth of black identity.

Storytellers photo
Myth-Breakers
Myth-Breakers
MEN OF CHANGE are not simply a defense against lies—they are the definition of truth.

Throughout American history, the story of African Americans has often been mis-told, untold, or reformulated into untruth. This has created a longstanding and tragic mythology. Yet these MEN OF CHANGE prove that the lies used to attack black America can be stifled and destroyed by the confident, unapologetic assertion of truth. Oppressive myths have been drowned out by the roar of their truth. And their past, present, and future have been defined by a voice that is their own.

Myth-Breakers photo
Fathering
Fathering
A father is an opening.

His devotion unlocks minds, allowing his children to use his experience and wisdom as a portal to life and as a guide while they journey through it. This crucial direction is provided by fathers, uncles, teachers, and coaches. It’s offered up in vast amounts by elders on the corner and by men who have witnessed much and faced even more. It comes from a place of deep love and soaring ambition. The ability to open doors and minds is a striking characteristic of these MEN OF CHANGE, and it has given those they’ve mentored the protection, inspiration, and knowledge necessary to explore new worlds.

Fathering photo
Community
Community
Represent.

The streets, blocks, schools, churches, mosques, and neighborhoods that shaped these MEN OF CHANGE helped write their life stories. Their ancestors formed communities to survive, and, centuries later, this collective strength is one of the many reasons these men found a way to thrive. By building community and brotherhood, they continue a tradition that is a hallmark of black culture. And because it is crucial to honor the impact of these neighborhoods and support networks, it’s important to remember that these men maintained an unbroken connection to the places that formed them and the people who raised them. This makes their success a shared experience. For a true MAN OF CHANGE represents more than himself—he represents us all.

Community photo
Imagining
Imagining
The freedom of imagination is the soul of invention.

For centuries, African men in America have unleashed their imaginations in order to invent reflections of their souls. From art and style to performance and technology, these men have repeatedly set in motion tidal waves of change that have washed up on shores all over the world. Their inventions contain the shared identity of African Americans, resulting in prolific manifestations in their communities. The thoughts, ideas, dreams, and creative pursuits of black men have crafted a crucial amount of American culture.

Imagining photo
Catalysts
Catalysts
The spark. The catalyst. The alpha. The OG. He who first ignites the fire can bring his light to everyone.

MEN OF CHANGE signify originators; they are men who do not wait for permission before challenging the injustice and barriers they face. Sometimes they choose to become catalysts; sometimes tragedy chooses them. So whether we follow their lead or honor their memory, we recognize that these men are the prelude to remarkable change. The revolutions we seek so often begins with the changes they create.

Catalysts photo
Loving
Loving

Resistance is done out of love.
Perseverance is made possible by love.
Revolution, dedication, survival, success are all products of profound love.
Our MEN OF CHANGE are in love.
They are in love with black people and the black identity in America.
From their well of love they draw power. They use it to shoulder the weight of the present and the ambition of the future. They resist, persevere and revolutionize.
They prove that the great source of their strength is the strength of their love.

"Love is supreme and unconditional; like is nice, but limited."
-DUKE ELLINGTON, MUSIC IS MY MISTRESS, 1973

Loving photo
(Top Left) Chess Players, 1980. Milton Williams. Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of Milton Williams Archive © Milton Williams.
(Bottom Left) I Am A Man, 1995. Roderick Terry. Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of Roderick Terry, © Roderick Terry.
(Top Right) Primary: Yellow, 2016. Dapper Lou.
(Bottom Right ) [MLK Jr., Malcolm X, and Barack Obama mural at Faith in Christ Ministries, 46th Street at S. Western Ave., Los Angeles, California, 2010], 2010. Camilo J. Vergara. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress,  LC-DIG-vrg-00407. 
 
(Top Left) On Galata Bridge 1966, Istanbul on the Golden Horn, 1966. Sedat Pakay. Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, © Sedat Pakay 1966.
(Top Right) Untitled, 1976. Milton Williams. Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of Milton Williams Archive © Milton Williams.
(Bottom Left) Jack Johnson, ca. 1910. Paul Thompson. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.
(Bottom Right) [President Barack Obama sits at his desk in the Oval Office], 2016. Pete SouzaCourtesy Barack Obama Presidential Library. 
(Top Left) Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Martin Luther King III, 1962. James H. Karales. Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of Monica Karales and the Estate of James Karales, © Estate of James Karales. 
(Top Right) The Way of Life of the Northern Negro: Untitled [Father and Son at Lake Michigan], 1946-1948. Wayne F. Miller. Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, © Magnum Photos.
(Bottom Left) The Guardian, 1990. Earlie Hudnall, Jr. Courtesy PDNB Gallery, Dallas; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum Purchase.
(Bottom Right) MMM Slogan II, 1995. Roderick Terry. Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of Roderick Terry, © Roderick Terry.
(Top Left) [Lincoln-Douglass Dinner/Mu-So-Lit], 1940. Scurlock Studio records, ca. 1905-1994. Archives Center, National Museum of American History.
(Top Right) Anacostia Park Community Day, 1982. Sharon Farmer. Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of Sharon Farmer, © Sharon Farmer.
(Bottom Left) Barber Shop, Charleston, SC, 1965. Leonard Freed. Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, © Leonard Freed and Magnum Photos, Inc.
(Bottom Right) The Men’s Choir of First Baptist Church, Norfolk, Virginia, 2005, 2005. Jason Miccolo Johnson. Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, © Gift of Jason Miccolo Johnson.
(Top Left) [Photograph of The Last Poets from the film Right On!], 1971. Herbert Danska. Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of Herbert Danska, © Herbert Danska.
(Top Right) Rude Boy, early 1980s. Jamel Shabazz. Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of Jamel Shabazz, © Jamel Shabazz.
(Bottom Left) Black, Boys, 2018. Dapper Lou.
(Bottom Right) G-Man – Park Jam in the Bronx, 1983. Henry Chalfant. ©2019 Henry Chalfant / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / Courtesy of Eric Firestone Gallery.
(Top Left) Young Marcher, Selma to Montgomery March, 1965. James H. Karales. Collection of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of Monica Karales and the Estate of James Karales © Estate of James Karales.
(Top Right) Coming into Montgomery, 1965. Spider Martin. Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, © 1965 Spider Martin.
(Bottom Left) Sanitation Workers assemble in front of Clayborn Temple for a solidarity march. Memphis, TN, 1968. Ernest Withers. Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, © Ernest C. Withers Trust.
(Bottom Right) Malcolm X, 1967. Photographer unknown. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. 
[President Barack Obama touches the face of Clark Reynolds], 2016. Pete Souza. Courtesy Barack Obama Presidential Library.