African Legacy 

Three exhibitions highlight the African American Museum's new space

Two overlooked groups of people -- Spanish-speaking Africans and longtime residents of West Oakland -- are finally getting their share of the spotlight amidst grand opening celebrations for the new home of the African American Museum and Library in downtown Oakland. The AAMLO, a division of the Oakland Public Library, recently moved into the Charles Greene Building at 659 14th St.. (corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Way) after an $11.2 million retrofitting of the Beaux-Arts former library, and it's ready to make an impact, says AAMLO director and chief curator Rick Moss.

"Tengo Casi 500 Años," photographer Anthony Gleaton's exhibition of 65 silver gelatin prints, documents the descendants of Africans originally brought to Central and North America by Spanish explorers, and their mestizaje, or assimilation, with indigenous people. "It's Tony's show," says Moss. "I've known him for six or seven years, since he first wanted to extend his journey [a ten-year project] into Central America, about 1994. We installed it," recalls Moss of the striking exhibition, "but Tony curated it." That photo show, which closes May 4, dovetails nicely with AAMLO's permanent exhibition "Golden Road to Freedom: The African Legacy in California, 1775-1900."

The West Oakland Senior Citizen Oral History Project, a collaboration of Dr. Opal Palmer Adisa and photographer Jonathan Eubanks, combines photos and texts of oral recollections of one the city's oldest neighborhoods. "It was an attempt to document the lives of older residents of West Oakland, many of whom had lived there since the 1940s, to give them their due," says Moss. "We edited it down from fifty-one original photos. It's a small show, but worthwhile."

This April will see an exhibition titled "The Search for Golden Freedom," a history of African Americans in the 1849 Gold Rush, and Moss is looking forward to AAMLO's official inaugural exhibition, "The Color of Money," sometime next year. It's a series of hand-tinted reproductions, by artist John W. Jones, of old Confederate bank notes depicting African-American slaves happily at work -- a loaded image if ever there was one. For more info: 510-637-0200 or www.oaklandlibrary.org

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