Timely in its existence, everlasting in its presence
For Black communities across Oklahoma and the larger diaspora, experiencing the erasure or false representation of historical events is one of unfortunate familiarity. This lack of accurate documentation and recognition spurred Canadian artist Donna Paris and photographer David Ofori Zapparoli to fill in the gaps of their ancestors, people, friends and community, thus Black Threads of the Canadian Tapestry was born, and ultimately, Descendants of the Black 1000: Flight from Oklahoma Black Towns to Canada.
“This exhibition is an important part of a larger project called Black Threads of the Canadian Tapestry coined by our friend and fellow historian Elise Harding Davis,” according to Paris and Zapparoli. “We want to open people’s eyes to the fact that there are a myriad of ways that Black people came to Canada beyond the story of the Underground Railroad, and that their stories continued after they crossed the border.”
Descendants of the Black 1000 opens Nov. 9 in the Oklahoma Gallery. This poignant exhibition utilizes black-and-white portraits, oral audio histories from living descendants and archival material to illuminate the stories of those who sought freedom, and how their narratives are carried on through those alive today.
“Just as the story of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre in Greenwood was squelched for decades, this mass migration of Black Americans from Oklahoma due to apartheid at statehood is not widely known,” says Guest Curator Gay Pasley. “It is important so that we understand who we are through the diaspora, and because it is Oklahoma history, and thus American history, this story must be told accurately.”
Through the captivating photographs and moving voices of 12 Oklahoma-connected descendants, viewers will learn of the events that led those seeking freedom to leave Oklahoma and find refuge in Canada. While pre-statehood, Black and Indigenous Americans were given equal territory, rights to land, elected positions and voting, it was after the passing of Senate Bill 1, and the enforcement of Jim Crow laws, that an estimated 1,000 Black Americans fled from Oklahoma and migrated north, dubbed the Black 1000.
“Paris and Zapparoli create works that crystalize and celebrate the ongoing legacy of Black resilience throughout this continent,” says Associate Curator Pablo Barrera. “By focusing on the stories and faces of the Oklahoma descendants of the Great Migration to Canada, the artists bridge the gaps in our collective memory as a state, offering a lens through which we may more fully connect with our shared Great Plains history.”
Grounding the exhibition with a contemporary view by anchoring these narratives through the living descendants and their voices, Paris and Zapparoli aim to touch the hearts of Oklahomans who may see their own, familial or communal reflections throughout the works on view.
“We anticipate that present day Oklahomans will be able to recognize themselves in the images and the voices of these descendants whose ancestors took a different path,” write Paris and Zapparoli. “We want Oklahomans to understand the sense of community these Black people built once they were in Canada. Though their journeys were not without hardship, they not only survived but thrived in their new homeland, never forgetting where they came from.”
Join us for the opening reception and artist talk Nov. 9, from 6-8 p.m., with light bites and a cash bar. Paris and Zapparoli will join Pasley for a discussion on their larger collaborative project, the connections that piqued the birth of this exhibition and the longstanding Black presence and movement within Oklahoma. All are welcome and encouraged to attend — reserve your free tickets here.
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