Artist Tomashi Jackson and Radcliffe Dean Tomiko Brown-Nagin discussed Brown II — Jackson’s new exhibition — at an event Monday to promote the Radcliffe Institute’s Presidential Initiative on Harvard and the Legacy of Slavery, which aims to understand Harvard’s historical ties to slavery.
A fusion of painting and printmaking, Brown II was inspired by the 1955 landmark Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education II, which intended to end segregation in American public schools.
Jackson said she developed an interest in learning more about the intersection of race, court cases, and education after attending city hall hearings and learning about a friend’s involvement in saving yellow bus services for Boston Public Schools.
“I realized how little I knew, how little I know about this landmark web of cases that transformed and impacted all the public spaces I’d understood since my birth in 1980,” Jackson said. “I didn't realize as a child in Los Angeles, [who] took the school bus to the USC campus, to go to my performing visual arts magnet school, that all of us were beneficiaries of a hard-fought battle for educational access."
Jackson's decision to learn more about the casework led her to the Yale University Law library, where she said she was inspired to create artwork based on the 1955 Supreme Court decision.
“It opened up the door into a conceptual space for me to explore the perception of color, and its impact on the value of human life and public space with the focus on the lives of Black children,” she said.
Jackson then came to Harvard to learn more about the Brown II case, which she said she was unfamiliar with before visiting the Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute.
She said she hoped to better understand the delay between the Court’s 1954 ruling in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka and the 1955 case, Brown II.
“What did it mean that even after the Supreme Court unanimously decided that all of us should have access to education, what did it mean that a year later it still wasn't happening?” she asked.
Schlesinger Library, which Jackson referred to as a “treasure trove,” played a pivotal role in bringing Jackson’s exhibition on Brown II to life.
Her work was inspired by the lives of Pauli Murray and Ruth Batson, both of whom dedicated their lives to desegregate American public schools. The Schlesinger Library contained rich archival material on Murray and Batson, and library staff also offered their assistance throughout the entire research process, per Jackson.
She added that Schlesinger is “the only library of its kind,” citing its focus on women in America.
Despite the challenges posed by Covid-19, Jackson’s exhibition came to fruition. She called the occasion “historic."
The Brown II exhibition will be on display at Byerly Hall until Jan. 15. It is currently open for Harvard affiliates and will open to the public starting Oct. 1.
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