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Let Your Motto Be Resistance:

African American Portraits

NMAAHC collaborated with the National Portrait Gallery on an inaugural exhibition of photographic portraits of African Americans. Selected by guest curator and photography historian Deborah Willis, Let Your Motto Be Resistance: African American Portraits explores the medium’s influential role in shaping public identity and individual notions of race and status over the past 150 years.

The exhibition's title was inspired by the rallying cry of celebrated abolitionist Henry Highland Garnet (1815-1882) who challenged the "slaves of the United States of America" to rise up and emancipate themselves. "Let your motto be resistance!," he exclaimed. "Resistance! Resistance! No oppressed people have ever secured their liberty without resistance!"

The portrait subjects come from many sectors of the African American community, from Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, and Edmonia Lewis, to W.E.B. Du Bois, Lorraine Hansberry, and Wynton Marsalis. Among the featured photographers who employ a variety of strategies to create their powerful images are Mathew Brady, Berenice Abbott, James VanDerZee, Doris Ulmann, Edward Weston, Gordon Parks, Irving Penn, and Carl Van Vechten.

Let Your Motto Be Resistance opened at the International Center for Photography, New York City, May 11, 2007 – September 9, 2007. The show was exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery October 19, 2007 – March 2, 2008, before touring the nation.

The national tour is organized by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES).

Let Your Motto Be Resistance: African American Portraits travelled to the following sites:

6/26/08 - 9/14/08
California African American Museum
Los Angeles, CA

10/25/08 - 3/1/09
Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History
Detroit, MI

3/21/09 - 6/14/09
Museum of African Diaspora
San Francisco, CA

7/4/09 - 9/27/09
Morven Museum and Garden
Princeton, NJ

10/17/09 - 1/10/10
Museum of African American History
Boston, MA

1/30/10 - 4/25/10
Atlanta History Center
Atlanta, GA

5/15/10 - 8/8/10
African American Performing Arts Center
Albuquerque, NM

8/28/10 - 11/21/10
Birmingham Civil Rights Institute
Birmingham, AL

12/11/10 - 3/6/11
DuSable Museum of African American History
Chicago, IL

3/26/11 - 6/19/11
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center
Cincinnati, OH

7/9/11 - 10/2/11
Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia
Richmond, VA

10/22/11 - 1/15/12
Museum of Art, North Carolina Central University
Durham, NC

2/4/12 - 4/29/12
Historical Society of Saginaw Country and the Castle Museum
Saginaw, MI

Internationally renowned sculptor, printmaker and teacher Elizabeth Catlett (b. 1919) is known for her focus on mother-and-child themes.  Photo copyright Mariana Yampolsky