Former Minnesota Supreme Court Justice and NFL Hall of Famer Alan Page continues to see justice as more than word, viewing it as a cause requiring ongoing, unstinted commitment to social service. The family is active again with a timely public exhibit of historic artifacts from their private collection.
In 1988 he and his wife Diane founded the Page Education Foundation, providing students of color financial and mentoring aid in exchange for a commitment to volunteer in the community, an initiative suggested by daughter Georgi. The foundation was supported by sales from children’s books, Alan and His Perfectly Pointy Impossibly Perpendicular Pinky and The Invisible You, penned by Justice Page and daughter Kamie.
Alan, Diane and Georgi have curated “TESTIFY: Americana from Slavery to Today,” drawing from the Diane and Alan Page Collection. Currently exhibited at Hennepin County Library’s Cargill Hall, the artifacts trace the history of race in the nation chiefly culled from the era of African bondage in America, including shackles, branding irons, and related grisly remnants.
Confronting the current attitude of blatant bigotry in the country, it brings into perspective odious statements by, among others, the president. “Before reconciliation, there must be truth — and the truth can be ugly,” Justice Page reflects. “But we cannot be reconciled and move forward if an increasingly louder group of people continue to deflect, minimize, and sweep history under the rug.”
He adds, “We live in a time when White supremacy and White supremacists are becoming more active. We have a current administration that seems to want to cater to the White supremacy movement. Those people want to deny that’s the reality.
“What the TESTIFY exhibits reflects is history. It has its ugly parts, but it has its good parts, too. We classify [it] as having two features: one, the oppressive pieces from slavery to the Jim Crow Era, the other showing the rich heritage and culture of the African American community.”
At Cargill Hall, Michael Deppe, who teaches third grade in the Roseville school district, was fascinated by the exhibit experience, noting, “I wish it were up for a long time. I wish I could bring my students.” Justice Page agrees there is value in exposing youngsters to something so starkly educational.
“It’s important for children to understand our history,” he says. “In fact, last Friday there were 60 students there from Justice Page Middle School. I think it gave them some real insight into the past they would not have otherwise had. Hopefully, the exhibit will be seen by lots of school kids.”
“My hope is that by coming to grips with our past we can come together in the future.”
Diane Sims Page, executive director of the Page Education Foundation, comments, “It’s been a dream of ours for many years to share our collection. At a time when the past seems ever more present, the 100-plus objects in the exhibit will juxtapose artifacts from our often-painful shared history with inspiring imagery and works of art that help us rise above it.
“My hope,” Sims Page continues, “is that by coming to grips with our past we can come together in the future. We’ve been overwhelmed with the response, averaging about 50 people per hour. I think the [viewers] who come are very moved. They’re very reverent, quiet. And they read the text, every single word.”
Those words were written by Georgi Page, who is delighted with the exhibit’s success. “It’s rewarding. I’m very happy they offered me the opportunity to help bring this collection to the public. I’m honored they trust me to makes this come to fruition.”
Alan and Diane gave her responsibility of installing it with a hand in its conception. “We had a very strong collaboration and came up with a narrative to express something relevant for today.”
She emphasizes that the aid of artist-curator Fred Wilson was invaluable. “He was a big inspiration, showing the juxtaposition showing the decadent lifestyle that was lived on the backs of slave labor. Contrasting the ornate place settings with the slave shackles. Show that this was the cost. This was the real cost.”
Linked to this vital event is a January 31 talk at the hall by Justice Page from 2 to 4 pm, titled “TESTIFY: It’s not about the flag or the anthem; it’s about justice.” He relates, “You know about the player protest in the NFL that the response to it has been all over the ballpark. None of it related to the injustices that underlie the protest. I’m hopefully going to try to refocus on the fact that, as Paul Robeson said, ‘The answer to injustice is not to silence the critic but to end the injustice.’ We need to get our focus back on that.”
As well, the documentaries Black Star Risen and A Football Life: Alan Page will be screened as a double feature Thursday, February 1; Friday, February 2; and Saturday, February 3, from 3 to 5 p.m., at Pohlad Hall, Hennepin County Library —300 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis. The exhibit is free to the public. The exhibit shows through February 6 during library hours, at Cargill Hall.
For additional information about the collection and TESTIFY visit The Diane and Alan Page Collection Facebook page, Twitter feed, Instagram or Page Education Foundation at www.page-ed.org.
Dwight Hobbes welcomes readers’ responses to P.O. Box 50357, Minneapolis, MN 55403.
For more on Alan Page, see Alan Page: ‘It’s not a people problem, it’s a system problem’ (audio) by Larry Fitzgerald, Sr.