Carnegie museum exhibit explores race relations

| Sunday, April 13, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Florence Saint-Jean saw Wall Street bankers on the subway next to homeless people while she grew up in New York. Race, background and income didn't matter underground.

Saint-Jean, 29, a doctoral student at Duquesne University, views Pittsburgh differently. Here, addresses mean something.

“There's a lot more diversity in New York City,” she said on Sunday while visiting the “Race: Are We So Different?” exhibit in the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Oakland. “Here, everyone asks what neighborhood I'm from.”

The touring museum exhibit put on by the American Anthropological Association explores the history, science and experiences of race relations in the United States.

Saint-John stopped to read through a localized portion of the exhibit stemming from interviews and photos produced by George Barber and Charles “Teenie” Harris in 1957 for the Pittsburgh Courier. Reporter Lynne Hayes-Freeland and artist Nikkia Margaret Hall posed the same question to Pittsburghers in 2014: What do you think of race relations in Pittsburgh?

Some in the 1950s said Pittsburgh had more favorable race relations than comparable cities. Modern residents, though, said segregation is a pervasive reality.

“The stories haven't really changed much, when you look at the comparison,” said Saint-John, whose parents came from Haiti. “You would think 50 years later, we would improve, but right now, it's still an issue.”

To challenge the misconceptions of race in the United States, the exhibit pulls guests through a timeline of the past few hundred years. It examines the effects of the G.I. Bill after World War II, which the exhibit says disproportionately aided white veterans above minorities. It explores conflicts of Native American mascots in schools and universities, and dives into the separate-but-equal paradigm of the mid-20th century.

Krish Mohan, a gallery presenter at the museum, said many visitors spend about 20 minutes reading and viewing parts of the exhibit. Others spend longer, examining the space.

Interactive quizzes let visitors test their perceptions on the connection between country of origin and race. Experts on looped videos talk through the history of generational shifts in legislation and social trends. Large photographs of Americans from different eras, cultures and backgrounds frame the space under track lighting.

Tom Dilaura, 65, of Baltimore stopped by the museum to check out the exhibit while visiting his son in the city. He remembers the segregated buses and lunch counters growing up in Maryland, and recalled the recent 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. Generational change, he said, has bred progress.

“Less and less, this will be an issue,” he said.

Funding backers for the project include the Ford Foundation and the National Science Foundation. Local support for the exhibit came from the EQT Foundation, The Pittsburgh Foundation, The Hearst Foundation Inc., The Heinz Endowments and Dominion Foundation, according to the museum's website.

The museum will host the exhibit through Oct. 27 in the third-floor R.P. Simmons Family Gallery. Other stops this year include The North Museum in Lancaster; History Colorado in Denver; Illinois Holocaust Museum in Skokie, Ill., and The Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville.

Melissa Daniels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8511 or

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