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State history museum hosts Smithsonian exhibit on iconic African American men

"Light Side Dark Side," by artist Shaunte Gates depicts the legacy of comedian and activist Dick Gregory, one of the men featured in the exhibit "Men of Change."
Courtesy of the artist via the Smithsonian
"Light Side Dark Side," by artist Shaunte Gates, depicts the legacy of comedian and activist Dick Gregory, one of the men featured in the exhibit "Men of Change."

The Washington State History Museum in Tacoma is one of only two museums on the West Coast hosting a new traveling exhibit from the Smithsonian. "Men of Change" highlights the stories of iconic African American men.

The exhibit features photos and writings from change-makers both historical and contemporary: W. E. B. Du Bois, Bob Moses, Kendrick Lamar, and LeBron James are among the men featured.

"Figure in the Urban Landscape #25 (portrait of Kendrick Lamar)," by Derrick Adams, is one of the artworks in the exhibit "Men of Change."
Credit Courtesy of the artist via the Smithsonian
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"Figure in the Urban Landscape #25 (portrait of Kendrick Lamar)," by Derrick Adams, is one of the artworks in the exhibit "Men of Change."

What makes the exhibit stand out is the original artwork accompanying the stories. Visual works were comissioned to depict the legacies of the men.

The art makes "Men of Change" more reflective than a typical history exhibit, says museum spokeswoman Julianna Verboort.

"The art really enhances your learning," Verboort said. "Seeing those art images is really memorable, so I think it will help you remember the names and help you remember those people."

Historical Society Executive Director Jennifer Kilmer says she is especially proud to host the exhibit in Tacoma. She points to a legacy of black leadership in the city, citing former mayors Harold Moss and Marilyn Strickland and current Mayor Victoria Woodards.

"The opportunity to take that story and then extend it out nationally to talk about African American leadership in our country I think is really important," Kilmer said.

At least one of the men featured in the exhibit has a connection to the Puget Sound region. Playwright August Wilson spent the last 15 years of his life in Seattle, working with Seattle Repertory Theatre. He died in 2005. 

August Wilson, who spent the last 15 years of his life working in Seattle, is one of the men featured in "Men of Change." This photo was taken in 2004
Credit David Cooper / Courtesy of the Smithsonian
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Courtesy of the Smithsonian
August Wilson, who spent the last 15 years of his life working in Seattle, is one of the men featured in "Men of Change." This photo was taken in 2004

"Men of Change" runs through March 15 at the state history museum in Tacoma.

A separate exhibit in Seattle on the legacies of black women also closes March 15. The Northwest African American Museum is showcasing art by local painter Hiawatha D. The exhibit is "Iconic Black Women: Ain't I a Woman."

A Seattle native and former knkx intern, Simone Alicea has returned to the Pacific Northwest from covering breaking news at the Chicago Sun-Times. She earned her Bachelor's of Journalism from Northwestern University. During her undergraduate career, she spent time in Cape Town, South Africa, covering metro news for the Cape Times.