A Disease Called Freedom

An Exhibition of 18th-, 19th- and Early 20th-Century Material Culture of the African Experience in the Americas from the Collection of Derrick Joshua Beard

February 1-April 15, 2000
James A. Findlay
DRAPETOMANIA, A Disease Called Freedom, book

The exhibit and catalog were made possible by the generous financial support of Broward County Library’s Donation Trust and the Broward Public Library Foundation.

© Bienes Center for the Literary Arts, Broward County Library, 6th Floor,
100 S. Andrews Ave., Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33301
954-357-8692 — www.broward.org/library/bienes

ISBN 0-967-8858-0-9
Printed in the United States of America

Table of Contents

1) Acknowledgments

2) Introduction

3) About the Collector: Derrick Joshua Beard

4) Bibliophiles and Collectors of African Americana
by Charles L. Blockson

5) The Exhibition Checklist

6) Selected Bibliography/Websites

7) Indexes


Broward County Library (BCL) is profoundly grateful to Derrick Joshua Beard for agreeing to loan a small portion of his extraordinary collection to the Bienes Center for the Literary Arts. The exhibit would not have become a reality without his patient guidance and counsel during all aspects of organizing and preparing the exhibition and the catalog. I would also like to thank Samuel F. Morrison, Director of Broward County Library and Arglenda Friday, the recently-named Director of the soon-to-be-built African American Research Library and Cultural Center of BCL, for their enthusiastic support and encouragement. Thanks to Dr. Allan D. Austin, author and lecturer on African Americana, for helping compile the selected bibliography. And lastly, praise to Peggy Bing, Cataloger/ Curator of the Bienes Center, for her daily help with matters of the exhibit both simple and complex.

James A. Findlay, Librarian
Bienes Center for the Literary Arts

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slaves and slave ship diagram
# 8


Broward County Library’s Bienes Center for the Literary Arts is pleased to have on display in its galleries during Black History Month, the 114 books, ephemera, paintings, sculptures, realia, and decorative arts objects that comprise, DRAPETOMANIA, A Disease Called Freedom: An Exhibition of 18th-, 19th-, and Early 20th-Century Material Culture of the African Experience in the Americas from the Collection of Derrick Joshua Beard, February 1-April 15, 2000.

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Matthew portrait
# 104

The title of the exhibition is taken from an article in the monthly Southern journal entitled The Georgia Blister and Critic, v. 1, #7 (Sept. 1854), p. 156 (exhibit #20). The journal dealt with the “diseases and physical peculiarities of the Negro race.” In the article, the word drapetomania was created by the noted Louisiana surgeon and psychologist Dr. Samuel A. Cartwright by combining the Greek words for runaway slave and mad or crazy. It was used to describe the mental disease that “induces the negro to run away from service, [and] is as much a disease of the mind as any other species of mental alienation, and much more curable, as a general rule.”

Utilizing surviving material culture objects, the exhibit attempts to outline the African experience in the Americas from its earliest manifestations in Africa, Colombia, and the Caribbean island of Hispañola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic) to the first part of the 20th century in the United States. DRAPETOMANIA is sub-arranged by the following sections: Haiti; Slavery; Early Enslaved Muslims; Abolitionism (Anti-Slavery); Children’s Anti-Slavery; New Orleans; Black Military; Reconstruction and Post-Civil War; African Americans on the Frontier; and Slave Songs and African-American Music. For the viewer, many of the documented events on exhibit will be difficult and troublesome since they depict, often in horrific terms, the subjugation of one race over another. On the other hand, there are also items that provide hope and encouragement and that lift the spirit. The objects were often created under wearisome and arduous conditions, yet they serve as a permanent record of the ordinary and the often extraordinary genius of Africans in the Americas and of Americans of African descent in the U.S.

James A. Findlay, Librarian
Bienes Center for the Literary Arts

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About the Collector:
Derrick Joshua Beard

Derrick Joshua Beard is widely considered to be the pre-eminent collector of 18th-, 19th- and early 20th-century African American decorative arts, photography, rare books, unique documents, and other objects of aesthetic and historic interest. It has been over a decade since he began to focus on accumulating these often overlooked and under-appreciated objects of African American material culture. In that short period of time he has been responsible, almost single-handedly, for elevating the area of collecting to the status it presently enjoys among scholars and collectors around the globe.

Derrick Joshua Beard was born in Chicago in 1958 to a family rich in creative achievements and artistic traditions: his mother was an artist and his uncle, in addition to being a successful architect, also sold watercolor paintings through prominent Chicago art galleries. Beard is a descendent of free Blacks who worked as artisans in Alabama many decades before emancipation. By the age of ten he demonstrated exceptional intelligence and artistic talent and was placed accordingly in his school’s program for gifted children. Later he was a student at the Art Institute of Chicago where he studied art history and basic art techniques. Excelling in his classes, he was awarded a scholarship to the prestigious Cranbrook Academy of Arts in Michigan where he broadened his fine arts foundation and gained additional skills in a broad range of media. One of Beard’s early influences was Cranbrook instructor, Michael Hall, a well-known folk-art collector who instilled in him an ability to identify objects of previously unrecognized artistic and historic value.

Concentrating on a possible career as an architect, Beard buttressed his creative abilities with studies in engineering and business at the University of Illinois, graduating with a BS in Urban Economics in 1980. After graduation, he gained life and business experience working in Chicago for an architect, a stock broker, and an engineering firm. He soon struck out on his own and started up a construction and real estate firm in Houston, Texas, which later expanded its operations to Louisiana. In New Orleans, his company often purchased and renovated buildings with historic value, and his love for the city and its captivating culture sparked his deep interest in Black history and culture. Later, he returned to Chicago to supervise his company’s government construction contracts. During that time, on a business trip to New York, he met a Haitian artist and gallery owner named Gerald Thomas who broadened his appreciation for the art of the African diaspora. The two traveled to Haiti frequently to meet artists and to soak up the island’s Franco-African culture that closely paralleled the culture of New Orleans. Initially Beard collected, mostly in New York and Haiti, paintings that reflected the African experience and American artistic achievement in the Depression years. Beard also met at that time the South’s greatest “picker,” Howard Smith, who sharpened his eye for 19th-century material culture. By 1988, Beard was collecting significant 19th- and early 20th-century pieces. Since then, his collection has grown today to be one of the largest of its kind in the world.

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