A sense of place has deeply shaped African American history and culture. A multifaceted range of African American communities and identities have formed and changed in all corners of the country and in turn influenced the regions around them.

Their evolution reveals a set of stories as diverse as the landscape itself. In the Power of Place, visitors explore stories of place from across the wide expanse of the nation and the African American experience.

In the exhibition, visitors learn that place is about geography—but also about memory and imagination. People make places even as places change people. Places are secured by individual and collective struggle and spirit. Place is about movement and migration and dis-placement. Place is where culture is made, where traditions and histories are kept and lost, and where identities are created, tested, and reshaped over time.

About the Exhibition

  • When: Ongoing
  • Where: Level 3 (L3), Community Galleries
  • Curator: Paul Gardullo
Linotype machine used by The Chicago Defender, 1902-1906

Linotype machine used by The Chicago Defender, 1902-1906
Created by the Merganthaler Linotype Company
Gift of the Chicago Defender Publishing Company, 2012.18.1

Exhibition Experience

Place Studies

The Power of Place exhibition showcases ten “place studies.” Each provides intimate views into distinct moments of the African American experience. They reflect the resiliency of African Americans in making places for themselves and overcoming the challenges they faced. Thematically, chronologically, and regionally diverse, together these cultural landscapes offer a sweeping view of American history through an African American lens.

  • The Defender: Making a Black Metropolis in Chicago, Illinois a place story of the great migration and the black press
  • Mae Reeves’s Millinery, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a place story of creativity, community and entrepreneurship
  • Angola, The Louisiana State Penitentiary, a place story of the plantation prison system in the Deep South 
  • Family, Farms and Land in Lyles Station, Indiana, a place story of free black pioneers and farmers in the Midwest 
  • Black Routes West, place stories from the long black presence in the American West 
  • Oak Bluffs, a place story of African American leisure in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts 
  • Riot and Resilience in Tulsa, Oklahoma  a place story of a race riot’s enduring legacies
  • Rice Fields in the Low Country of South Carolina a place story about enslavement and the transformation of an American landscape 
  • H.C. Anderson’s Greenville, MS, an insider’s photographic portrait of black Mississippi during segregation  
  • Park Jam, a place story of the birth of Hip Hop in the Bronx, New York

Place Yourself

Anchoring these stories is the “Hometown Hub” a central congregational point in the exhibition that introduces the themes of the exhibition encourages thoughts about some key questions. 

  • Is some place meaningful to you? Where is it? What makes it powerful?
  • What are the places you carry with you? What places have you left behind?
  • What is your home place?

The Place Table, a highly interactive, multi-media component features dozens of personal stories of place created by individuals that begin to answers these questions. At the table, visitors will explore first person, short stories of places from real people across the nation and internationally that touch on a variety of themes such as home, migration, community, displacement, neighborhood, travel, and loss. Each story is accompanied by an image and a regional locator map. Stories can be explored by selecting “floating” images on the table or by browsing regions or themes.  The Place Table will be accompanied by a web component so that visitors inspired by their visit can compose their own stories of place with their own photographs and submit them through an online system for the Museum to upload them onto the Table.


Ochre colored rolled brim suede hat with feathers from Mae's Millinery Shop, 1941-1994
Ochre colored rolled brim suede hat with feathers from Mae's Millinery Shop, 1941-1994
"Riot penny" charred during the 1921 Tulsa race riot, Gift of Scott Ellsworth.
"Riot penny" charred during the 1921 Tulsa race riot, Gift of Scott Ellsworth.
Turntable used as part of a DJ setup, 1970s. Angelo T. King / The Original DJ Tony Tone AKA Tony Crush of The Cold Crush Brothers.
Turntable used as part of a DJ setup, 1970s.
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