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Brand of the Atlanta University Center Robert W. Woodruff Library


Black Interiors: Envisioning a Place of Our Own

A Black History Month exhibit highlighting Archives Research Center Resources

“The black interior is a metaphysical space beyond the black public everyday toward power and wild imagination that black people ourselves know we possess but need to be reminded of. It is a space that black people ourselves have policed at various historical moments. Tapping into this black imaginary helps us envision what we are not meant to envision: complex black selves, real and enactable black power, rampant and unfetishized black beauty.”

- Elizabeth Alexander, "The Black Interior"

In her seminal text The Black Interior, Elizabeth Alexander describes a reality beyond what is currently perceptible to the senses. One constructed and cultivated by black people away from the scrutiny of those who try to invade and dictate both the physical and spiritual domains of their existence. Pulling inspiration from Alexander’s essay, Black Interiors: Envisioning a Place of Our Own explores the black aesthetic and psyche by drawing attention to interior spaces as sites of liberation and creative expression.  

Behind the façades of Loïs Mailou Jones’s “Old House Near Frederick Virginia” (1942) or the southern “shacks” which inspired Beverly Buchanan’s “Untitled (Red Ladder)” (1995) are domestic spaces that are nurtured and protected. Within these enclosed walls African Americans re-envision space as freedom, fashioning their homes to reflect their personal values and cultural memory. The interior of the home—along with all who dwell within—is sacred for African Americans, who have consistently wrestled with the impermanence of place perpetrated by chattel slavery, Jim Crow, and gentrification.  

This exhibition showcases artwork, archival documents, photographs, correspondence, memorabilia, newspaper articles, and images related to the continuous efforts of those within the African Diaspora to designate and create communities of their own within the United States and abroad. Artists from Clark Atlanta University Art Museum’s and Spelman College Museum of Fine Art’s permanent collection offer a glimpse into private rooms of the home to depict precious moments of solitude and contemplation. While personal letters, family photos, and diary entries collected and preserved by the Atlanta University Center Archives Research Center disclose intimate details of life as an African American.  By unpacking the politics and poetics of the often racialized and gendered space within and around the household, the works included critically examine how our social relations and cultural practices are shaped. 


Items on display are from the AUC Woodruff Library’s Archives Research Center (ARC), Spelman College Museum of Fine Art and Clark Atlanta University Art Museum.  Archival material may be viewed in the ARC Reading Room located on the library’s upper level. Visit for more information on collections, or to schedule an appointment in the Archives.

As you explore the exhibit...

...reflect on and answer the following questions:

  1. What impact did the Great Migration have on Black culture, as well as popular culture?
  2. Describe the role(s) women, and in particular black women, played in the making of a home and attempts to obtain the American Dream.
  3. Describe the impact colonialism had on the educational landscape for many African countries. Are there parallels when thinking about African American education and public schools? If so, explain.
  4. What conditions in American living during this time period would encourage African Americans to travel abroad?
  5. What was something new you learned from this exhibit? Explain.
  6. Describe how practices like redlining lead to neighborhoods that are still segregated to this day. Come up with additional examples of other methods and practices that perpetuated segregated neighborhoods.
  7. In what ways have you personally utilized "adorning your home", be it a dorm room, an apartment, or in some instances your car, in order to make it a safe place of your own?
  8. What was your favorite part of this exhibit?
  9. Explain, in your own words, what this exhibit was about.

Explore Digital Collections on this Topic

Black Interiors

This collection is part of the Atlanta University Center (AUC) Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums (GLAM) Center for Collaborative Teaching & Learning.


We are open Monday through Thursday, 1PM - 7PM; Friday, 1PM - 5PM. We are also open Saturday by appointment only. To make an appointment please contact us at least 24 business hours in advance at, or (404) 978-2052.