The Great Migration immortalized in art at Rollins College

‘The American Library Collection’ honors the African American diaspora from the American South

British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare made the sculpture which will be installed in the Kathleen W. Rollins Hall Thursday. (Rollins College)

WINTER PARK, Fla. – A giant piece of African American history will make its mark on the Rollins College campus Thursday in the form of a statue.

A new sculpture by British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare will live in the Kathleen W. Rollins Hall—core values at the center of the campus, literally and figuratively.

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It’s called “The American Library Collection (The Great Migration: Poets, Philosophers, Historians)” and it remembers The Great Migration, a time span between 1910-1970 when about six million Black people moved from the American South to Northern, Midwestern, and Western states to escape racial oppression and violence.

“The sculpture reinforces the very significant – yet not always fully known – role that African Americans played in the evolution of American poetry, philosophy and history, and how that evolution changed due to the fact that so many families were forced to flee their homes in the South to escape Jim Crow discrimination,” said Ena Heller, director of the Rollins Museum of Art. “... This movement afforded them – and the generations who came after – to pursue education and become, in spite of continued discrimination, some of our historians, poets, and philosophers of note.”

Rollins College students and staff provided research that contributed to the sculpture immortalizing history in art.

“At Rollins, the project was led by history professor Claire Strom, who facilitated student and faculty engagement throughout the spring 2021 semester. The group extensively researched and studied various primary resources to find names of subjects whose ancestors left the 17 southern states between 1910 and 1968,” Rollins College officials said.

The piece, commissioned by alumni Barbara and Ted Alfond for the museum’s Alfond Collection of Contemporary Art, will feature a collection of 600 hardcover books bound in Dutch wax and “embossed with the name of a poet, philosopher or historian with personal or ancestral ties to the Great Migration,” according to Rollins College.

It’s part of their Alfond Collection of Contemporary Art, which focuses on the core values which surround a liberal arts education. The “visual syllabus” aims to both enrich Rollins’ education and community, Heller said.

“We hope they will understand the power of art in shedding light on history, revealing its blind spots, and enriching our knowledge of how the intellectual power of our nation was and continues to be created,” Heller said.

The sculpture exists as part of Shonibare’s larger series, “Libraries,” which asks observers to contemplate what society would look like without great, diverse literary contributions.

About the Author:

Samantha started at WKMG-TV in September 2020. Before joining the News 6 team, Samantha was a political reporter for The Villages Daily Sun and has had freelance work featured in the Evansville Courier-Press and The Community Paper. When not writing, she enjoys travelling and performing improv comedy.