Soldiers for Equality: From Phillis Wheatley to the 20th Century


This exhibition, utilizing material from a variety of collections among the Center's holdings, traced the African American experience from slavery and emancipation to activism and personal achievements in the 19th and 20th centuries.

The exhibition began with a rare first edition copy of Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral by Phillis Wheatley, "Negro Servant to Mr. John Wheatley of Boston, in New England." Published in London in 1773, it serves as a rare example of an enlightened family's acceptance and nurturing of a young woman's talent. 

From there, the exhibition moved on to a number of "slave narratives." These inexpensively-produced paperbound books, written in first-person form, document the lives of escaped slaves. The period of emancipation was represented by a printed version of the Emancipation Proclamation, issued January 1, 1863, and formally identified as General Orders, Number 1. 

The exhibition shifts to the 20th century and explores the African American experience through the collections of several prominent members of the community in Boston. The final portion of the exhibition examined Boston University's history with the philosophy of Personalism and its impact on two prominent African American alumni: John Wesley Edward Bowen, the first African American to earn a Ph.D. at Boston University (1887), and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The exhibition concludes with material from the collection of Edward O. Gourdin, the first African American appointed Justice of the Superior Court of Massachusetts (1958).


This exhibition is no longer on view.

Soliders of Equality