‘Systemic racism touches every corner of the United States’

Published 9:00 pm Friday, July 21, 2023

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‘TESTIFY’ exhibit aims to open discussion

Originally scheduled to end July 28, the “TESTIFY: Americana from Slavery to Today” exhibit has been extended another month.

Stephanie Kibler, executive director of the Freeborn County Museum, Library & Village, described the exhibit as a series of posters designed to highlight artifacts in an art collection belonging to former Minnesota Viking and Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Alan Page and his wife, Diane, and their family.

“It relates to slavery throughout America and covers a span of more than 100 years of items, artwork,” she said. “There’s some interviews with Justice Page and several NFL football players that we’ve added.”

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The exhibit features 18 posters, with each highlighting a different artifact/piece in the collection. The interviews with football players discuss the impact the exhibit had on them after seeing the collection.

Also on display is a Ku Klux Klan robe and hood from the museum’s collection.

Kibler wants the exhibit to highlight and open discussion regarding racism in America.

“Quite often we — I think — think in rural Minnesota these aren’t a Minnesota issue, or it’s not a local issue, and systemic racism touches every corner of the United States,” she said. “This exhibit gets people talking and discussing some of those points and how we can move forward and have a conversation about healing and getting a better understanding of what people of color have experienced, specifically Black people who were enslaved.”

The exhibit is a partnership with the Albert Lea Public Library. Originally, Southeastern Libraries Cooperating received a grant for the creation of the posters, with the idea first floated around in March. The Albert Lea library didn’t have space, so it reached out to the museum about six months ago, asking if it could host it.

The museum was happy to do it, with Kibler adding the museum had reached out to the Page family a month earlier inquiring about getting part of the collection for the museum.

“As historians, [we] have an obligation to report or to share the history, whether it’s our city, our county, our state, our country, to share that history — the good, the bad and the ugly,” she said.

With the rise in domestic terrorism — specifically white supremacy groups — Kibler also felt the exhibit was relevant in the current time period.

“People think that’s not in our area but it is,” she said. “As close as Steele County … they experienced on July Fourth and Juneteenth white supremacy posters being placed around their community.”

It’s her hope this exhibit will provide a better understanding of different cultures and experiences that people in rural, largely Caucasian communities don’t have.

So far, most visitors of the exhibit described it as “powerful or shocking” and said they were surprised.

“One of the banners shows a sign, ‘No dogs, no Mexicans, no Blacks,’” she said. “That clearly shows dogs at the top and then black people at the bottom. People have said they were surprised that dogs were in there with people, that the value of a person’s life was equivalent to that of a dog.”

She also wanted visitors to better understand the difficulties African American individuals have experienced through slavery, and she’s hoping the exhibit can create dialogue on ways to heal as well as take steps to move from systemic racism that’s still prevalent.

Within the lobby is a kiosk highlighting other notes of interest within the county, such as the fact the first KKK rally in the state was held at the Freeborn County Fairgrounds.

According to Kibler, the Page family had one of the most extensive collections anybody had related to slavery.

The exhibit runs through Aug. 25 and is free to the public. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays.