Exhibit Highlights the Cultural Shifts of the 1960s and 70s. Exhibit highlights the cultural shifts of the 1960s and 70s.

As a Ph.D. candidate in 20th-century African American history with a focus on oral history and archival studies, Jessica Terry-Elliott spends a lot of time in Syracuse University’s Special Collections Research Center (SCRC). So when the lead curator of SCRC approached her with a curatorial opportunity that she had no previous experience in, Elliott took a chance.

“…Sometimes you just have to leap, and this is the result of me taking that jump,” Terry-Elliott said.

On Jan. 19, SCRC opened the “A Love Supreme: Black Cultural Expression and Political Activism of the 1960s and 1970s” exhibition in SU’s Bird Library. The exhibition, spread across the sixth floor of Bird Library, will be open to the public until July 14.

In addition, with help from the SCRC staff, Terry-Elliott, in partnership with Caroline Charles, SCRC curatorial assistant and Ph.D. candidate in English, worked to create the exhibition.

“Jessica and I really embraced collaboration in this process,” Charles said. “Having someone who is always encouraging has been a very rewarding experience overall.”

Lead Curator and Curator of Plastics and Historical Artifacts, Courtney Hicks, hopes visitors of the exhibit are able to experience and embrace everything in the exhibition fully.

“My wish is that viewers will fully step into the power and message of this exhibition and embrace all it holds,” Hicks said. “This exhibition teaches, shares, and gathers visitors in solidarity to honor, discover, and learn from Black voices.”

A Love Supreme: Black Cultural Expression and Political Activism of the 1960s and 1970s

“Love Supreme” is named after John Coltrane’s mantra from his jazz suite of the same name. Terry-Elliott and Charles saw the name fitting due to the many themes of love and community seen throughout the exhibition.

“We made this decision and commitment to understand community within the lens of love. Finding the transcripts of John Coltrane, that was an easy one of how to name this exhibition,” Terry-Elliott said. “It has gone through many iterations, and when we finally landed on A Love Supreme: Black Cultural Expression and Political Activism of the 1960s and 1970s, while it may be a lot to say, it is effortless.”


A signage describing the Standing in Power Room
The signage from the “Standing in Power” room, where “Lady Day and John Coltrane” by Gil Scott-Heron, plays in the background.
© 2023 Toluwanimi Fajolu


The exhibition includes multiple themes throughout the sections. The main gallery is titled “Standing in Power,” with archives dedicated to what it means to embrace Black culture through education, children and artists. The exhibition ends with the “Absent of the Abstract” case, which puts together multimedia archives of political activism.

“That case is dedicated to what it means to say that freedom is not an abstract thing. It was something that Black people were very clearly outlining and articulating and fighting for during that period,” Charles said.


Exhibition wall of sketches by Jerry Wilson
The Robert Ortwine Gallery includes drawings from Jerry Wilson’s sketchbook. All of the items on display were already in SCRC’s collection partly due to “former SCRC curator Kathleen Manwaring’s (b. 1948 – d. 2018) commitment to acquire and preserve publications from Black small-press publishers, journals, and periodicals”, said Hicks.
© 2023 Toluwanimi Fajolu

The Black Arts Movement
The exhibition uses a variety of archives to reimagine the Black Power movement and the Black Arts Movement.

“This specific period in time is one of the most interesting periods in time, Terry-Elliott said. “The 1960s-1970s represents a second reconstruction in this country not only for Black people but for all Americans.”

Playwright Larry Neal coined the Black Arts Movement as a symbiotic relationship between culture and politics. It was seen as a time when Black Americans were reimagining their power and using art to speak to ideas about liberation.

“Black people were not asking; they were demanding, crafting, and recreating and reimagining their own power. And at the same time, Black art was doing the same thing because this was the opportunity for them to say this isn’t just art for art’s sake. There is no such thing as art for art’s sake,” Terry-Elliott said.

Elliot: The process was short but long at the same time. Typically, when people curate an exhibition, it’s supposed to take them a year and Caroline and I had six months to do all of the work.

Charles: And we also had this theme in the back of our mind of love and community that we wanted to portray with this exhibition. So, I think it really came together when we thought through oh a love supreme. A love supreme is not only about John Coltrane, it’s not only about these prominent Black arts movement writers that we were engaging with, but it was also about the everyday lives of people.

Elliot: This exhibition works seamlessly together. This exhibition is not separate, but it could be. If you only engage with the main gallery, which is standing in power you don’t have to see anything else and you can understand everything. If you came to the Ortwine gallery and you didn’t go anywhere else, you can understand a love supreme in that space without seeing anything else. And lastly, the last area absence of the abstract, same thing. If you didn’t go anyplace else in this exhibition, you could understand the whole thing. But together they work seamlessly.

Related Articles