The Activist Collector: Lida Clanton Broner’s 1938 Journey from Newark to South Africa (Hardcover)

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The Activist Collector: Lida Clanton Broner’s 1938 Journey from Newark to South Africa By Christa Clarke Cover Image
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Published by the Newark Museum. Distributed worldwide by Rutgers University Press.

“After twenty-eight years of desire and determination, I have visited Africa, the land of my forefathers.” So wrote Lida Clanton Broner (1895–1982), an African American housekeeper and hairstylist from Newark, New Jersey, upon her return from an extraordinary nine-month journey to South Africa in 1938. This epic trip was motivated not only by Broner’s sense of ancestral heritage, but also a grassroots resolve to connect the socio-political concerns of African Americans with those of black South Africans under the segregationist policies of the time. During her travels, this woman of modest means circulated among South Africa’s Black intellectual elite, including many leaders of South Africa’s freedom struggle. Her lectures at Black schools on “race consciousness and race pride” had a decidedly political bent, even as she was presented as an “American beauty specialist.” 

How did Broner—a working class mother—come to be a globally connected activist? What were her experiences as an African American woman in segregated South Africa and how did she further her work after her return? Broner’s remarkable story is the subject of this book, which draws upon a deep visual and documentary record now held in the collection of the Newark Museum of Art. This extraordinary archive includes more than one hundred and fifty objects, ranging from beadwork and pottery to mission school crafts, acquired by Broner in South Africa, along with her diary, correspondence, scrapbooks, and hundreds of photographs with handwritten notations.

About the Author

Christa Clarke is an independent curator and art historian. Previously she was senior curator of Arts of Global Africa at the Newark Museum of Art, where her work was supported with major grants from the Andrew Mellon Foundation and the National Endowment of Humanities. Her books include Representing Africa in American Art Museums (2011, coedited with Kathleen Berzock), the award-winning African Art at the Barnes Foundation, and Arts of Global Africa: The Newark Museum Collection.

Praise For…

“Christa Clarke’s The Activist Collector, a triumph of archival research and art historical scholarship, is a revelation of the astonishing degree to which symbolic and spiritual connections to South Africa were shared by African Americans at every social level as much as a century ago. Clarke’s work demonstrates in stunning detail that consciousness of Black African culture and politics and truly ‘Pan-African’ artistic sensibility were not merely embraced by exemplars of the African American intellectual elite, but were much more broadly-based, and shared across black social classes. In stunningly insightful analyses of the collection of art objects that Lida Clanton Broner gathered as she engaged in a one-woman campaign for black liberation throughout apartheid South Africa almost a century ago, Clarke has resurrected from the archives a story that reveals the power and magic of courage, imagination, and the belief that the battle for freedom must be pursued one speech and one art object at a time.”
— Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Director of the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research at Harvard University

From hairstylist and housekeeper to grassroots activist, Ms. Broner led an extraordinary life. The granddaughter of enslaved Africans, she was determined to visit her ancestral home. Her history with us began in 1943 with an exhibition of objects and artifacts she collected (and later donated to the Museum) during her 1938 trip to South Africa. That installation was among the very first museum exhibitions to focus on the art of South Africa and may well have been the first museum presentation of a collection by an African American woman.
— Linda C. Harrison, Director & CEO, The Newark Museum of Art
Product Details
ISBN: 9781978836150
ISBN-10: 1978836155
Publisher: Rutgers University Press
Publication Date: February 17th, 2023
Pages: 208
Language: English