Special to South Florida Times

The African-American Research Library and Cultural Center will on Saturday, Aug. 28, host an opening reception and lecture for its current exhibit, Black Florida: A Photographic History.

The exhibit, held in the center’s art gallery, 2650 Sistrunk Blvd., near Fort Lauderdale, is on show through Oct. 2.  Its nearly 100 photos document the contributions of blacks in Florida from the colonial to the Civil Rights eras.

The pieces are part of a collection of Dr. Marvin Dunn, historian, author, retired chairman of the psychology department at Florida International University.

“I traveled the state of Florida for 20 years, from Key West to Pensacola, collecting photographs, documents and artifacts,” Dunn said.

“My area of psychology is community psychology; my work is on understanding the evolution of communities,” said Dunn, a Miami resident.  “I went from understanding the evolution of black Miami to understanding the evolution of black Florida.”

Some of the photos, Dunn said, came from the Florida State Archives, from donations from private owners and from private collectors who made them available.

Many of the photos, which include subjects from Reconstruction, to the black church, slavery, Civil Rights, the Civil War and the history of the Seminole’s involvement with the slaves, have not been shown publicly.

“I scoured places that maintained our history photographically,” Dunn said. “Many were churches, schools, public records and families.”

All photos and images on display were drawn from the Dunn Collection. None of the photos were taken by professional photographers.

“Dunn presented the work to us,” said Larry Holland, the center’s library specialist.

The center got a grant from American Express, which, Holland said, “enabled us to compile a traveling exhibition of Dunn’s work.”

“It has been on tour throughout the state of Florida for almost a year now,” said Holland.

The grant amount was not disclosed.

The exhibit, which has traveled to Bradenton and Tallahassee, includes artifacts from the rubble after the 1923 massacre of blacks in the town of Rosewood and a video documentary produced by Dunn, Murder on the Suwannee: The Willie James Howard Story.

Dunn said he has done archeological research in Rosewood “for the last year,” adding, “We have found pottery, glass, jewelry, belt buckles, tools and railroad spikes.”

The video, Holland said, will run continuously during the reception.

When Dunn traveled to Live Oak to research the 1944 Willie James Howard case, he said, he felt “pulled” to Howard’s gravesite.

On Jan.2, 1944, Howard was dragged from his home at gunpoint, hogtied and forced into the Suwannee River by three white men for the “offense” of having a crush on one of their daughters.

Howard was never seen alive again.

“He was a child who was 15 years of age, an only child with no death certificate, no record of his death,” Dunn said. “I wanted his voice to be heard.”

Born in De Land, Dunn attended segregated schools where, he said, “I learned little about Florida’s black history.

“I was taught about Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver and Mary McLeod Bethune. That was our black history education in the 1940s and ’50s. I grew up with a total absence of knowledge concerning things that were all around me.”

The truth, he said, “is that we really built this state and I want people to see this through the photographs.
“It’s a portable exhibit that the library will have forever.”

Cynthia Roby may be contacted at CynthiaRoby@bellsouth.net.