A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Kentucky by Heart: Traveling exhibit tells African-american story through children’s book illustrations

As a young girl in the 1970s, Becky Munoz’s belief that “the world should not be divided by color” was challenged when her parents moved her family from Lexington to Georgia because of a job transfer.

Munoz saw a whole lot of blatant racism toward blacks in her new surroundings, and it bothered her. Several years later, she graduated with a major in English from Berea College, along with a minor in African American studies, hoping that she might help educate others to see human differences more positively.

Becky Munoz shows one of the Telling a People’s Story panels (Photo by Steve Flairty)

Today, Munoz, who has worked for 24 years with the youth services program at the Woodford County Public Library in Versailles, is proud to partner with the Miami University (Ohio) history exhibit called Telling a People’s Story: African-American Children’s Illustrated Literature.

The exhibit is, according to the website, “devoted to the art found within the pages of African-American children’s picture books.” At the Woodford site, the “Traveling Panel Exhibition” is on display, consisting of twelve one-sided standups with historical informational text and beautifully illustrated images taken from children’s books. The exhibit will continue through May.

“Picture books have a tremendous power to tell stories, evoke emotions, and to influence people,” Munoz said.

She then picked up a copy of an early pioneer of African Americans breaking into professional baseball and showed me the front cover, a bright and telling illustration of a young Satchel Paige. Paige made his Major League debut at age 42 after spending many years pitching in the segregated Negro Leagues.

“You feel like you really kind of know Satchel Paige even though you may not have heard of him before,” Munoz said. Seeing the panels — the information and images — “helps (those who have not had diverse experiences) normalize something that could seem exotic.”

More panels in the Woodford Co. Public Library exhibit (Photo by Steve Flairty)

Themes included in the individual panels are: African Traditions and Storytelling, The Middle Passage (1650s to 1850s), Slavery and the Underground Railroad (1619-1865), Civil War, Emancipation and Reconstruction (1863-1877), Segregation (1860s-1960s), Harlem Renaissance and The Great Migration (1918-1924), The Civil Rights Era (1954-1968), Modern Cultural Identity (1970s and beyond), and Biographical Sketches.

There are other educational materials included with Telling a People’s Story, but Becky sees the most value in having the panel displays out on the main floor of the library, where every visitor is greeted by the aura of an almost museum-like atmosphere—one that evokes an appreciation for a race that has played an essential part in America’s heritage and, of course, are vital citizens of the country today.

“Besides just for children, I think it is also going to be educational for adults to see these illustrations,” Munoz said, “because many adults don’t really realize the depth and richness of illustrations in children’s books today.”

She expects that Telling a People’s Story will inspire conversations and for patrons to ask questions such as, obviously: “Do you have this book?” And for the Woodford County Public Library, it’s an initiative that hopefully will play at least a small part in addressing the issue of a divided country.

If your school or library would like information on gaining access to the Telling a People’s Story exhibit, visit sites.miamioh.edu.

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Joe B. Hall, Tim Farmer, and Denny Crum on a fishing trip (Photo courtesy of Tim Farmer)

I was saddened by the passing of Denny Crum, the long-time University of Louisville basketball coach. Crum, like myself, was born in California and coached with John Wooden at UCLA before coming to U of L. And Wooden is one of my all-time favorite coaches.

I had always heard that Denny was a gentleman and I found it to be true with a personal encounter back in 2006. I met him while he was ushering at the huge Southeast Christian Church in Louisville.

My first book, a biography of Tim Farmer, had recently been published and I asked if he’d like to have Tim Farmer and me on his Joe B. and Denny Radio Show. Denny responded pleasantly, took my card, and promised to get back to me.

A few days later, he called. We arranged the details to appear on the show, and to be called by a three-time basketball National Coach of the Year became memorable for me. He made a good impression on me, for sure.

Denny Crum began his life as a Californian, but there’s little doubt he died a Kentuckian… and a very respected one.

Steve Flairty is a teacher, public speaker and an author of seven books: a biography of Kentucky Afield host Tim Farmer and six in the Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes series, including a kids’ version. Steve’s “Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes #5,” was released in 2019. Steve is a senior correspondent for Kentucky Monthly, a weekly NKyTribune columnist and a former member of the Kentucky Humanities Council Speakers Bureau. Contact him at sflairty2001@yahoo.com or visit his Facebook page, “Kentucky in Common: Word Sketches in Tribute.” (Steve’s photo by Connie McDonald)

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