Rosetta Lucas Quisenberry spent 14 years in the Fayette County Schools teaching middle schoolers history. In her retirement she is trying to teach anyone who will listen the history of African Americans in our country. Quisenberry started collecting black Americana at about age 24.
Now nearing 56, she has assembled an impressive collection of postcards, pictures, statuettes, toys, buttons, and other items that illustrate some of the worst and some of the best depictions of African-Americans in the public eye. Beginning in 2003, Quisenberry put these images together in a four-book series starting with The Saga of the Black Man, followed by The Saga of the Black Woman, The Saga of the Black Child, and The Saga of the Black Family. Rather than narrate or explain the images, Quisenberry simply presented them in her books. The pictures are often stark enough to connote their intentions without a single printed word. The first half of Quisenberry's books depict negative images and the second portions show positive pictures which are often photos African-Americans had taken of their families and their daily lives.
"I had to make a decision to show it or to write about it, so I decided one picture is worth a thousand words," said Quisenberry. "If I can figure it out, other folks can, too."
Quisenberry is a Lexington native and attended Carver Elementary School, Dunbar Junior High School, and three high schools due to bussing-Dunbar, Henry Clay, and Lafayette. She said that while she experienced some racism as a young person, she never saw such negative depictions until she attended an antique show at Turfland Mall in her twenties.
"One man had these postcards in boxes and on the table it said blacks, Christmas, Indians, etc., as the themes of the cards...I saw two white women looking through the cards and kind of giggling. When they put the box down I wanted to see what they were laughing at. As I perused the cards, Lord Have Mercy, I had never seen this before in my life. I was getting a master's degree at the University of Kentucky and I hadn't seen these things. I realized then I wasn't being taught about me. I remember getting hot, a sweat broke out over me. I remember that to this day." Quisenberry has since searched for and purchased examples of black Americana from California to Cape Cod. "While I was collecting negative stereotypes, I was collecting anything that was black. We were a rare commodity. Nobody saved us. We weren't important. I was just out there to collect my history because I hadn't really been taught it in the schoolhouse."
Reaction to the Saga series of books has been mixed. Quisenberry said many individuals have thanked her for the books-which she self-published by taking a second mortgage on her house-while others have taken one look and shut them tight. The books are in some area libraries and are carried in the bookstore of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit.
"I think it's an embarrassment when you look at it," said Quisenberry. "(But) somebody's got to take ownership for it and somebody else has got to admit that it did happen."
Quisenberry will participate in the Cincinnati Juneteenth Festival on June 16 in Eden Park and in the Sept. 29 Winburn Neighborhood Festival and Book Fair. For more information on the Black Saga series, visit www.asagaoftheblackman.com.