The Black Collectors Who Championed African-American Art During the U.S. Civil War

Updated: Sep 18, 2020

Eastman Johnson, A Ride for Liberty - The Fugitive Slaves, March 2, 1862, 1862.

Courtesy of Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Jordan McDonald's Artsy article digs into the lives of William H. Dorsey and Edward M. Thomas, two Black American men who became known for their prominent art collections in the late 19th century. During this time, in both the years leading up to and during the United States Civil War, it was rare for Black Americans to possess such prized collections. McDonald's feature narrates Thomas' desire to host his dream exhibition that would put Black artists, innovators, and collectors on the map, and considers the significance of own Black material property and art when Black Americans were struggling against the laws of chattel slavery.

"At a time when the future of chattel slavery and Black life hung in the balance of a national quarrel, these men, William H. Dorsey and Edward M. Thomas, negotiated their precarious freedoms through the collection and promotion of Black art."