Tukufu Zuberi curates exhibits on black history

Tukufu Zuberi

Jabari Zuberi

Tukufu Zuberi, the Lasry Family Professor of Race Relations, aboard a tugboat while filming videos for the Independence Seaport Museum's “Tides of Freedom: African Presence on the Delaware River.”

In 2003, Tukufu Zuberi, the Lasry Family Professor of Race Relations and chair of the Department of Sociology in the School of Arts & Sciences, was plucked out of academia and placed in front of millions of viewers when he landed a role as host on the hit PBS television series, “History Detectives.”

A decade later, after traveling the world uncovering lost tales of found objects, Zuberi hasn’t ventured far from his life’s work as a sociologist “dedicated to using the academic environment to educate.”

His enthusiasm about long-lost objects led Zuberi to curate not one, but two major exhibitions opening soon at two Philadelphia museums.

“Tides of Freedom: African Presence on the Delaware River” will open on Saturday, May 4, at the Independence Seaport Museum on Penn’s Landing. The exhibit commences with a blessing of the river ceremony at 10 a.m. on the Museum’s dock, followed by six hours of family-friendly activities, music, and crafts celebrating African and African-American culture.

“Tides of Freedom” covers 300 years of African-American history along the Delaware River, and encourages visitors to examine the concept of freedom by looking at four watershed moments in Philadelphia’s history: the Middle Passage and enslavement, emancipation, Jim Crow, and the Civil Rights era.

Visitors will see artifacts recently uncovered in the Museum’s collections. Objects on display include shackles and leg irons, a ledger with slave sales from 1763, and a protection certificate from an African-American sailor.

The interactive exhibit gives visitors opportunities to engage in an ongoing discussion via social media. Zuberi’s presence is felt throughout, as he appears in video presentations. Museum-goers will be able to hear an auctioneer selling slaves at market and experience what work life was like for oyster shuckers along the river.

Black Bodies in Propaganda

Collection of Tukufu Zuberi

“Our Colored Heroes,” 1918, from “Black Bodies in Propaganda: The Art of the War Poster.” Although the U.S. government used heroes like Henry Johnson in recruiting African Americans, they didn’t award him any medals for decades.

The show is scheduled to run through 2015. The exhibit is free with Museum admission.  

The Penn Museum’s “Black Bodies in Propaganda: The Art of the War Poster” debuts on Sunday, June 2.

Propaganda has long been used to mobilize people in times of war, and this exhibition, curated by Zuberi, presents 33 posters, most targeting Africans and African-American civilians, in times of war. These carefully designed works of art were aimed at mobilizing people of color in war efforts, even as they faced oppression and injustice in their homelands. The posters are from Zuberi’s private collection.

“I began to collect posters with black soldiers depicted in them as part of my larger interest in how the black body has been used racially,” Zuberi says. “These posters, covering the Civil War, Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, and the African struggle for independence, are all unique.”

On June 2, at 2 p.m., Zuberi will discuss the propaganda posters he has amassed—46 total—since 2005. At 3 p.m., Eugene Richardson, a former Tuskegee Airmen, will speak about his experiences as one of the first African-American pilots to fight in World War II. The programs are free with Museum admission.

Originally published on April 25, 2013