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AAHM&CC 2022 Art Recovery Report

Part 1 of 2

This post series is drawn from a July 2022 report documenting the condition of AAHM&CC artworks recovered and documented on April 10, 2022 at Public Storage on MLK.

On March 6, 2022, workers hired by the Urban League dismantled the African American Heritage Museum and Cultural Center (AAHM&CC) installations in the courtyard of the Colman School building at 2300 South Massachusetts Street. They cut into the modular shed housing the art studio and art storage. Many artworks in the shed were relocated to a locker at a Public Storage facility on Martin Luther King Jr Way S at I-5. Some artworks were not brought to shed and are lost.

Our volunteers examined the artworks upon recovery. They recorded written condition notes, and performed photo documentation using smartphone cameras.

Storage conditions upon recovery

Art shed artworks and other objects were jammed together in a small storage locker. Small paintings, objects and works on paper were scattered in black plastic bags or clear plastic. Moisture was present in some bags, which promoted mold growth. Stacked crates with hoses on top were tipped onto large paintings on canvas, causing distortion and other damage.

1 – Storage of paintings on discovery

Storage of paintings on discovery

2 – Ongoing mechanical damage to paintings

Damage to 2021 painting by artist in residence Earl Debnam

3 – Earl Debnam in his AAHM&CC studio, June 2021

Earl Debnam in his AAHM&CC studio, June 2021

Many paintings by artist in residence Earl Debnam were damaged during their seizure and storage. Volunteers inventoried and documented Debnam’s works created during the 2020-2022 AAHM&CC occupation, allowing comparison with their current condition. This is the condition of one of these paintings after its recovery.

4 – 2021 painting by Earl Debnam before damage

2021 painting by Earl Debnam before damage

5 – Damaged painting with several scratches to paint layers circled

Damaged painting with several scratches to paint layers circled

This oil painting was stored in direct contact with heavy objects and hoses during storage. The paint surface is now disrupted by long scratches. The canvas now has significant planar distortion, which can be seen more easily on the unpainted reverse side of the canvas. There is also mold damage on the reverse. The planar distortion may reverse on its own as the canvas rests, however the other condition issues require conservation treatment.

5 – Reverse side of painting before damage

Reverse side of painting before damage

6 – Reverse side of damaged painting with several areas of planar distortion circled

Reverse side of damaged painting with several areas of planar distortion circled
History Exhibition!

AAHM&CC PROUDLY PRESENTS… Laminated Display Exhibit: BLACK GRASSROOTS NEWSPAPER “Northwest Passage”, Volume 26 No. 5, JANUARY 1986!



History Exhibition!


April 9th is the Birthday of Paul Robeson (1898-1976), the world-renowned and still controversial African American athlete-singer-actor-activist.

Paul Robeson remains controversial today for primarily two reasons: He never apologized for being Black, and he never apologized for disliking both capitalism and fascism. (Farmers and gardeners in the Soviet Union honored Paul Robeson by naming a variety of tomato after him.)

As a laborer in the entertainment industry, however, Paul Robeson–partially in spite of and partially because of his fame–was constantly used and abused in unscrupulous ways by his employers, directors, supervisors, more privileged coworkers and even many of his allegedly progressive Caucasian professed “allies” in struggle.

Very rarely, throughout his long and prolific career, did this great man get to wield any editorial influence over the portrayal of his own image, whether on stage, on screen, on the athletic field, or in still photography.

The handful of moments, when he WAS able to do so, were the works of which he was most proud.

From 1950 until 1958, Paul Robeson was Whitelisted by employers throughout the US, had his name temporarily erased from the records of All-American football and was denied a US passport to prevent him from traveling or working abroad. The reasons given by the State Department for denying Robeson a passport included both his “extreme advocacy on behalf of the independence of the colonial peoples of Africa“, and “his frequent criticism of the treatment of blacks in the United States“.

The best and Blackest documentary every yet made about Paul Robeson is the 1999 film HERE I STAND, directed by the accomplished Harlem documentarian St. Clair Bourne, (1943-2007), narrated by Ossie Davis and starring Harry Belafonte, Uta Hagen, Martin Duberman, Howard Fast, Paul Robeson Junior and (via stunning archival footage) Paul Robeson Senior himself.

The film is also named after the book, written by Paul Robeson himself in 1958:


History Exhibition!

HARRIET E. WILSON – 1825-1900: earliest known African American novelist, AND HER WORK STILL PACKS A PUNCH!

Statue of Harriet E. Wilson, Milford, NH

March 15th is the birthday of Harriet E. Wilson (1825-1900) of Milford, New Hampshire, born a nominally “free” laboring class African American woman.

In 1859, Harriet Wilson, in an open and honest attempt to supplement her meager income, completed the now famous novel “Our Nig; or Sketches From the Life of A Free Black In a Two-Story White House, North Showing that Slavery’s Shadow Falls even there”.

She got it copyrighted by the US District Court of Massachusetts in August, and published in print by George C. Rand and Avery in September. It is the oldest known printed novel to have been published by an Afrikan author (of any gender) in North Amerika.

This novel was widely believed to have been written by a white person until 1982, when exhaustive irrefutable evidence was compiled and presented to prove the authenticity of Wilson’s authorship.

The novel is still highly controversial today, especially to northern liberals, because it raises critical questions about how different from slavery the life of a “free” Black laborer in the Amerikan North actually was during the lifetime of its author.

The novel begins with the following words:


IN offering to the public the following pages, the writer confesses her inability to minister to the refined and cultivated, the pleasure supplied by abler pens. It is not for such these crude narrations appear. Deserted by kindred, disabled by failing health, I am forced to some experiment which shall aid me in maintaining myself and child without extinguishing this feeble life. I would not from these motives even palliate slavery at the South, by disclosures of its appurtenances North. My mistress was wholly imbued with SOUTHERN principles. I do not pretend to divulge every transaction in my own life, which the unprejudiced would declare unfavorable in comparison with treatment of legal bondmen; I have purposely omitted what would most provoke shame in our good anti-slavery friends at home.

My humble position and frank confession of errors will, I hope, shield me from severe criticism. Indeed, defects are so apparent it requires no skilful hand to expose them.

I sincerely appeal to my colored brethren universally for patronage, hoping they will not condemn this attempt of their sister to be erudite, but rally around me a faithful band of supporters and defenders.”

The novel is in the public domain, so the rest of it can be read for free here.

It can also be heard read aloud as a free audiobook here.

The AAHM&CC encourages you to read or listen to it.

History Exhibition!

AN HONORABLE AND DIGNIFIED HARRIET TUBMAN DAY TO ALL, … But full pensions for aged veterans sure would be nice!

This newspaper clipping from 1908 claims that Harriet Tubman is 93 years old at the time of this photo. If true, that would place her the date of her birth as 1815. Other sources have estimated her birth in the early 1820s. Although she served the US army in the 1860s, the army refused to give her a military pension until 1898.

Today, as the AAHM&CC Celebrates Harriet Tubman Day, we remember not just the sacrifices our elders have made for us, but also the long and ongoing struggle to get them the respect they deserve.

Harriet Tubman is remembered as an icon for abolitionism.

She should also be remembered as an icon in the struggle for African American army veterans to receive their pensions!

It is well known that Harriet Tubman served the Union military during the Civil War, most famously on the Combahee River, where she became the first woman to lead a US army combat operation.

Lesser known is the fact that, after the standing army phase of that war ended, it would be 33 years before Harriet Tubman would receive her army pension.

Tubman had no birth certificate, because she was born into chattel slavery some time in the early 1820s or late 1810s. So, she was at least 43 in 1865 when Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox, at least 55 in 1877 when the Union formally abandoned Reconstruction and surrendered the South to Jim Crow rule for the next nine decades. And she was at least 68 in 1890 when the Second Morrill Act established the HBCU colleges.

She did not begin receiving her small pension until 1898, by which time she was at least 76. Even then, the matter of giving her a tiny pension was so controversial that it took a heated debate in the federal Congress to make it happen!

Harriet Tubman died on March 10th, 1913, at somewhere between the ages of 91 and 98.

Seventy-Four-year-old AAHM&CC Co-Founder Omari Tahir Garrett is also a US army veteran who is also to this day receiving neither his army pension nor his full regular social security check, which is a ongoing living example of continued racial inequality within the Social Security program, a overall progressive program which, nevertheless, was founded in such a racist way that, for the first 20 years of its existence, it actually widened the wealth gap between “white” and “non-white” households instead of narrowing it.

This March 10th, in honor of Harriet Tubman, we call for the dignity and human rights of all women, all veterans, and all African Americans.


History Exhibition!


Statue of Benkos Biohó in the main square of San Basilio de Palenque, the free town which he founded in 1599. The statue’s right arm is outstretched eastward towards Africa.

This month the AAHM&CC pays a solemn and grateful tribute to our heroic freedom fighter Benkos Biohó, on the 400th anniversary of his brutal execution by hanging and quartering in March of 1621.*

We also take this moment to celebrate the fact that, at long last, an English-language book has  been published (in January 2019), rendering his long suppressed story finally accessible to the anglophone Amerikan public: FREEDOM! THE UNTOLD STORY OF BENKOS BIOHO and THE WORLD’S FIRST MAROONS!, A TRUE STORY, by KOFI LENILES and DR. KMT SHOCKLEY, ILLUSTRATED BY IROUPA KEINKEDE, Published by AuthorHouse.

Benkos had been kidnapped in the late fifteen-hundreds from his native island in the Western Mali/Kaabu region of Guinea-Bissau (a part of the world which, nearly four centuries later, would field another world-renowned freedom fighter, Amílcar Cabral).

In approximately 1599 (two decades BEFORE Virginia unloaded its first slave ship), Benkos Biohó, escaping slavery for at least the second time, led a group of about 30 escapees in founding one of the oldest and longest lasting free Afrikan Maroon cities in the Western Hemisphere! 

This town, San Basilio de Palenque, stands proudly as a beacon of liberty to this day! (Yanga, in Veracruz, Mexico, is even older!)

Benkos led the people of Palenque in a just and courageous war against the Spanish Empire’s slave traders, frequently raiding the nearby Atlantic slave port of Cartagena and setting the captives free.

In 1603, the Governor of Cartagena Gerónimo de Suazo, admitted that he was unable to defeat the free people of Palenque, and offered a peace treaty with King Benkos Biohó, which was extended in 1612 between Biohó and the next Governor, Diego Fernández de Velasco.

Naturally, however, the next Governor, Garcia Girón, broke the treaty by ambushing and kidnapping Biohó in 1619, holding him prisoner until March of 1621, and publicly murdering him because, in Girón’s words “It was dangerous the extent to which Biohó was respected in the population!”

But Biohó became even stronger as a martyr! The brave people of Palenque rose up against his treacherous murderers and resumed the war for freedom. They fought for 70 more years, until 1691, when the King of Spain himself personally signed a peace treaty with Palenque!

The 1691 truce has been cautiously maintained and guarded by Palenque ever since, with Spain and with its Imperial successor, the modern state of Colombia. Like its predecessor, Colombia continually vacillates in its willingness/desire to keep its promises to indigenous peoples of either Afrika or this hemisphere.

And yet, the people of Palenque, trustworthy and dedicated to long memory, still sing their ancestor’s songs about the valor of Benkos Biohó, and teach those songs to their children.

Benkos Biohó is a hero to all Afrikan people worldwide!

To all indigenous people worldwide!

To all coastal seafaring people worldwide!

To all laboring class people worldwide!

And to any human being who is sincerely in favor of freedom!

We are all Benkos Biohó!


As of this month, Biohó’s free town of Palenque has endured continuous struggle to exist for 422 consecutive years!

If necessary, so will the African American Heritage Museum & Cultural Center!

*Accounts very as to the exact day of his death, (anywhere from March 3rd through about March 16th, 1621) due to the inability of the Julian/Gregorian white power structure to keep a straight calendar for that length of time, and its propensity for burning the books of other cultures who might otherwise have successfully done so. However, it is a clear that Benkos Bioho was publicly dismembered for a European settler audience in March of 1621.

History Exhibition!


January 17, 2021



Link to the full proceedings of the December 1869 Black labor convention chaired by Isaac Myers. (These proceedings were published by Frederick Douglas at the printing press of the New Era newspaper on April 4th, 1870.)

History Exhibition!

David Walker Autum Commemorative PUMPKINS!





On September 28th, 2020, the 191st Anniversary of the completion of Black abolitionist David Walker’s heroic APPEAL of 1829, the AAHM&CC launched this Fall Pumpkin Fest!

CLICK HERE FOR FULL TEXT OF THE APPEAL! (Credit to the Journal of Pan African Studies).

David Walker (1797?-1830) was a courageous and visionary Black Abolitionist leader and activist. He put his life on the line by publicly demanding the immediate end of slavery in the early days of the US Empire, and by openly calling upon slaves to revolt against their masters.

David Walker ought to be a household name, as familiar as the other revered heroes of the Black freedom struggle.

This website: (, published by folks in Walker’s home town of Boston, has detailed information about David Walker and his work. We encourage you to visit it.