Black History Month

In February, we featured all Black designers on our social media accounts, twitter, instagram, and facebook. As we were planning for our first Black History Month initiative, we were concerned about preparing sufficient materials to fill a full month of content. We were familiar with the larger problem that the achievements of Black designers are underrepresented, underresearched, and under-celebrated.

We discovered that the Archive did have a handful of Black designers, however, it only scratched the surface of the legacies and impact of Black design. We spent the month researching and recognizing Black designers that have been working in and influencing the industry and social causes through their practices of design. Limited to digital archives and online materials because of the pandemic, our findings lean on the research of scholars in university libraries, museums, and independent researchers. Nonetheless, we added hundreds of new items to the Archive and re-examined many that we already had. The features for our 2021 Black History Month included folks new and familiar to us:

Amos Kennedy Jr. | Arem Duplessis | Art Simms | Bob Gumbs 1, 2 | Buddy Esquire 1, 2 | Cameron Ewing | Charles C. Dawson 1, 2 | | Donald Crews | Dorothy E. Hayes 1, 2 | Dr. Cheryl D. Miller | E. Simms Campbell | Eddie Opara | Emmett McBain 1, 2 | Emory Douglas 1, 2 | Eugene Winslow 1, 2 | Faith Ringgold, 2 | Gail Anderson 1, 2, 3 | Garland Kirkpatrick | Georg Olden 1, 2 | Herbert Temple | Jay Jackson | LeRoy Winbush 1, 2, 3 | Lisa Lyons | Loïs Mailou Jones 1, 2 | Louise E Jefferson | Loring Eutemey 1, 2 | Maurice Cherry | OBD | Octavia Butler | Pedro Bell | Reynold Ruffins 1, 2, 3 | Rick Griffith | Robert Savon Pious | Seldon Dix Jr. | Spencer Thornton Banks | Sylvia Abernathy (Laini) 1, 2 | Sylvia Harris 1, 2 | Thomas Miller 1, 2 | W.E.B. Du Bois

Some of our broad findings point to opportunities for further research:

  • A variety of research methods and sources were consulted, expanding not just the canon but how to ask questions about Graphic Design
  • More men than women represent and/or are credited.
  • Historically, more work for advertising and Black consumerism is represented than the cultural sector.
  • In many cases, Black consumerism has not included Black designers in marketing towards Black communities.
  • A lot of the work found was tied to Black politics, liberation, and equal justice.

Working on a Black History Month feature has helped expand the content of the Archive beyond the traditional canon of Black designers. This effort reminded us of the urgency of preserving, gathering, and sharing our history as a design community. The task is urgent.

More inclusive representation is something that we believe the design community has to actively pursue by expanding networks, listening, and learning. We are motivated to move beyond the question “where is Black design” to other points of inquiry that can expand our definition of history.

In our search for historic items 10+ years or older, it is hopeful that we found so many more recent works and emerging designers. A new generation of black designers will be future material for the PGDA and other archives. We also met a new generation of Black scholars contributing outstanding work. Our field is changing and the future history will look different than the one we inherited.

P.S. We are kicking off another initiative in the month of March with Women’s History Month by featuring all Women designers on social media! Who are your favorite women designers? Are there ones that have fallen through the cracks of design history?