theGrio tours The White House’s Black History Month exhibit

EXCLUSIVE: The exhibit was presented by First Lady Jill Biden in partnership with the Library of Congress, the House Representatives, the Smithsonian, and the Supreme Court.

As Black History Month comes to a close, the White House welcomed theGrio to the East Wing to exclusively view its weeks-long exhibit honoring prominent African American history makers.

The Black History Month exhibit was presented by the office of First Lady Jill Biden in partnership with the Library of Congress, the U.S. House of Representatives, the Smithsonian National Postal Museum, and the Supreme Court of the United States.

The exhibit was displayed along the “Hall of First Ladies,” also known as the ground floor corridor. While entering the East Wing, theGrio was welcomed by the exhibit’s curator Lydia Tederick and was given a tour led by Cameron Trimble, the White House’s director of digital engagement. 

The exhibit showcased a series of displays along the long hall, where portraits of past first ladies — from Hillary Clinton to Barbara Bush — hang on the walls. There was also fine chinaware displayed in a cabinet used in White House state dinners throughout several administrations from former President Abraham Lincoln to President Barack Obama.

White House china from Obama administration. (Photo: theGrio/Gerren Keith Gaynor)

White House historical items aside, the main attraction was the collection of curated items paying tribute to America’s most laudable Black political figures, athletes, artists, and writers throughout African American history.

“It’s really a great opportunity to kind of showcase all of African Americans’ contributions to this country and our history,” said Trimble. 

One of the most topical displays was in honor of the nation’s first Black Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. Inside of a glass container was Marshall’s signed judicial oath of office and a photograph of Marshall meeting with President Lyndon B. Johnson inside the Oval Office. Johnson nominated Marshall to the high court in 1967.

Thurgood Marshall display at White House Black History Month exhibit. (Photo: theGrio/Gerren Keith Gaynor)

Nearly 55 years after Marshall’s historic confirmation, on Friday President Joe Biden nominated Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, a Black woman, to replace Justice Stephen Breyer. If she is confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Black history will be made yet again for the Supreme Court when Brown Jackson becomes the first Black American woman to sit on the bench. 

While Black women in politics have been met with significant barriers throughout American history, political luminary Shirley Chisholm’s tenacity as the first African American woman to run for president on a major party ticket has inspired generations of women in politics, including America’s first and current Black American woman Vice President Kamala Harris. 

Chisholm, whose historic presidential bid was announced exactly 50 years ago, is prominently showcased in the White House exhibit. Inside the display was a sketched version of Kadir Nelson’s famed painting of the New York politician that currently hangs in the U.S. Capitol building. There were also buttons displayed from Chisholm’s 1972 campaign.

Shirley Chisholm display at White House Black History Month exhibit. (Photo: theGrio/Gerren Keith Gaynor)

Famous African American painters Jacob Lawrence, a Harlem abstract artist, and Washington, D.C.’s own, Alma Thomas, were also featured in the exhibit. Lawrence’s 1947 panting “The Builders” and Thomas’ 1966 painting “Resurrection” were prominently displayed on the walls of the corridor. Both works of art are permanent items of The White House Historical Association. Thomas’ “Resurrection” was unveiled as part of the White House Collection during Black History Month 2015 under the Obama administration. It was the first of the collection by a Black woman. 

Alma Thomas and Jacob Lawrence paintings at White House Black History Month exhibit. (Photo: theGrio/Gerren Keith Gaynor)

The rest of the exhibit featured displays dedicated to several other Black “firsts” like Mae Jemison; the first Black woman to go to space, Jackie Robinson, the first Black American to play in Major League Baseball; and acclaimed novels written by literary greats Maya Angelou (“I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings”), Toni Morrison (“Beloved”), Zora Neale Hurston (“Jonah’s Gourd Vine”). Angelou’s display also included the recently released quarter dedicated to the Pultizer-nominated poet – the first for an African-American woman.

The White House’s Black History Month exhibit was installed the second week of February and is expected to remain on display until March 4.

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