The history of what it has meant to be black and female in the United States is not easily summed up—a point that the upcoming Smithsonian photo book African American Women makes plain. As Kinshasha Holman Conwill, deputy director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, points out in an introductory essay, the images in the book “[illuminate] a narrative that reflects large and small moments in U.S. history and culture.”
Famous faces like Lena Horne are presented alongside those whose personal stories are far less well known. Leona Dean, for example, lived a relatively prosperous life in the Midwest in the early 20th century—a place and time that has been largely eclipsed in the national memory. “We made a point of choosing images of people who aren’t famous,” says Michèle Gates Moresi, the museum’s supervisory curator of collections. “They aren’t known as leaders, but they were to their communities.”
The book is part of the Double Exposure series from the National Museum of African American History and Culture; the first installment in the series was released earlier this year and both African American Women and Civil Rights and the Promise of Equality will be released on July 7.