Through Our Eyes: Milestones and Memories of African Americans in Yonkers

May 31–November 3, 2019

This exhibition brings together a selection of 100 years of photographs and objects documenting African Americans who have made Yonkers the vibrant city that it is today.

From Francis J. Moultrie, a prominent caterer in the late-nineteenth century, to State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins today, numerous individuals have achieved success and built a strong and connected community. When Moultrie arrived from South Carolina in 1869 with fifty cents in his pocket, African Americans represented less than two percent of the population of Yonkers and encountered many uphill battles in making a life for themselves. Facing these obstacles head on, they went on to achieve success in business, politics, education, and many other fields. Stories like that of Moultrie and countless others are often overlooked in mainstream histories and in museums.

Twenty-first-century Yonkers is a thriving, diverse city, with an African American population of nearly 20 percent. Through Our Eyes: Milestones and Memories of African Americans in Yonkers chronicles and celebrates the stories and achievements of many individuals. Spotlights on education, faith, family, service, and social life illuminate the rich tapestry of city life. From joyful graduations and weddings to the heroic exploits of firefighters and civil rights activists, these compelling images and personal treasures have never been displayed in a museum setting. A special feature of the installation will be an interactive area inspired by Harry’s Shoe Shop and its owner, Perstine Wesley, both iconic and beloved in the Yonkers community. Wesley decorated his walls with photographs documenting decades of African American experience in Yonkers. In the Museum’s interactive “shoe shop,” visitors will be invited to leave their own Yonkers’ memories for others to read, inspiring a new thread of stories.

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The Museum’s Samuel H. Kress Interpretive Fellow, Christian Stegall, spent seven months researching and interviewing Yonkers residents to collect these important stories. This prestigious fellowship, awarded to only six museums nationwide this year, has a goal of diversifying the next generation of art museum professionals. As a result of grassroots examination and classic word of mouth, Stegall collected more than 700 images, many of which will be add to the Museum’s collection.

This exhibition demonstrates the Museum’s ongoing commitment to making our collections and program offerings more inclusive and representative of the communities we serve. With such a large collection and vast history, we recognize that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to produce a single exhibition that fully illustrates all the experiences of African Americans in Yonkers, or that of any community. With the immeasurable support from local residents, Through Our Eyes attempts to capture the essence of people’s lives here. The Museum will continue to elicit community involvement in future historical collecting efforts and displays that tell the many stories that are a reflection of our diverse public.

Curated by Christian Stegall, Samuel H. Kress Interpretive Fellow, Hudson River Museum, with research assistance by Quinn Barratt. Installation design by David Lucas.

James H. Farrell Masonic Lodge Banquet, 1947. Photographer unknown. Digital gift of Luther Garrison.