It has been many years since I visited the Museum in Black run by Brian Breye. Many years ago it was located in historic Lamert Park in Los Angeles. I will never forget my first visit.
It was a quiet summer morning as I poked my head into the open door. The owner was no where to be seen. I wandered the dark isles of African artifacts in solitude. Spotting an open door in the back, bathed in light, I slipped in and was confronted by a multitude of Black Americana artifacts and memorabilia. There were images on every wall, even the ceiling. I remember a large wooden hutch full of salt and pepper shakers. Post cards, Valentines, Aunt Jemima in every conceivable utilitarian form. Note Pads, Cookie Jars, Syrup containers, Toaster Covers and more. Artifacts and memorabilia from slavery, segregation and Jim Crow. My first thought ~ Well this puts "my collection" of odds and ends to shame. Just then, the owner tapped me on the shoulder and said rather firmly; “This room isn't ready for the public, it's my private collection.”
For the first time, I stood in front of someone who shared my passion to rescue these items. I wasn't going anywhere! I needed to know more about this collection. For me, the images of an uncomfortable past are a great source of knowledge, understanding, even pride. The fact that my grandparents and their grandparents had lived, struggled and rose above a society so intrenched in hatred, myths and stereotypes has been a great source of inspiration in my life. So we talked about the haunting images first, the scarcity of many of these treasures, who the collectors where and why imports and copies were being made today. I left with a new found understanding of my need to save these treasures and the importance of the past.
I've often wondered if the Museum in Black is still there and how it has changed. Since that chance meeting with Brian Breye, I realized that rescuing and preserving this slice of history is an honorable obsession. To reach the heights, to climb the difficult mountains of everyday life, we must understand and draw upon the strength of our ancestors. Our manifest destiny has been written and carved out of the uncomfortable past.
Here is a very small part of Pearl’s Private Collection: