A Letter from America's Black Heritage

A letter from a 1960s-era NHM exhibition details an 1860s fight against racial injustice

Flat file drawers from NHM's Seaver Center

Published February 1, 2024 

With the arrival of Black History Month, allow us to share a two-page letter preserved in the History Collection.

Though not specifically dated, the letter likely originates from 1868, written to members of Congress protesting a poll tax placed upon Black Virginians during this period of Reconstruction. The authors were Lewis Lindsey and (possibly) James T.S. Taylor, two of the African American members of Virginia's Constitutional Convention held December 3, 1867, to April 17, 1868.⁣⁣
Fast forward a hundred years, when in the 1960s, America experienced a chain of events: President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, the Watts Riots scorched the city of Los Angeles, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered. The Museum’s History Curator Russell Belous responded to the wounded community with the Museum’s 1969 exhibition America’s Black Heritage. Belous, along with Burt Reiner, developed the national scope while Associate Curator William Mason curated the local sections on Black Angelenos. This letter was acquired in 1968 and featured in the exhibition which was the first of its kind by a major museum.⁣⁣

Read the letter below.

Lewis Lindsey and (possibly) James T.S. Taylor Letter Page 1


Lewis Lindsey and (possibly) James T.S. Taylor Letter Page 2