It's the summer of 1926 in Delray Beach, Florida, and a brand-new two-story home at 170 Blackmer St. is the first in the area with indoor plumbing, a telephone, and electricity. The Mission Revival-style home features a stone foundation with stucco finish and a chimney with a capped bell tower. It's the home of Solomon David Spady, the third-ever African-American public school principal assigned to Delray Beach.
S.D. Spady, affectionately known as "Prof," spent 35 years serving the African-American settlers of Delray Beach. His philosophy was simple and effective: God, country, and the people first; self last. Face your daily problems prayerfully, keeping in mind that the highest service to God and to yourself is to serve your fellow man.
Today, Blackmer Street has become NW Fifth Avenue, and it's been more than 60 years since Spady departed this Earth. His home is now the site of the Spady Cultural Heritage Museum, whose new exhibit, "Legacies of Delray Beach Families," opened Wednesday, May 15. There will be an open-to-the-public reception at 5:30 p.m. Friday, May 17.
Vera Farrington founded the Spady Museum after noticing a troubling void in the city archives where she volunteered. African-Americans make up more than a quarter of Delray Beach's population but were not well-represented. After buying back the home from its then-owner with the help of the city in 1997, then renovating it and filling it with period furniture selected from local salvage yards, Farrington opened the Spady Museum in July 2001.
Spady director Charlene Jones, who is Farrington's daughter, says the museum's marketing and PR consultant, Michelle Brown of Kaliah Communications, "thought it would be great to highlight four distinct but well-known families of Delray Beach. Then she sat down with my mom, and she made the suggestions as to which families should be highlighted based on her memories and what she knows of contributions of these family members."
Four families — the Edmondses, the Mitchells, the Spells, and the Quinces — are spotlighted in the show. Photographer Michiko Kurisu captured the families in the barbershops, theaters, storefronts, and sidewalks where they spend their daily lives.
The Edmonds owned businesses when segregation was still the law. A portrait of twins Rosa Edmonds Bush, retired schoolteacher, and Alexander Mr. Stick Edmonds, second-generation barber, shows the brother and sister standing shoulder-to-shoulder in front of a barbershop wall adorned with a painting of a lush, tropical landscape and a faded Miami Dolphins poster. Rosa wears simple slacks and a T-shirt with gold jewelry and freshly French-manicured nails, while Alexander looks out from under his green eyeshade visor with a subtle, close-mouthed smile.
In another portrait, the Rev. Matthew "Bump" Mitchell sits with one robed arm propped up on the windowsill of a Delray Beach police car parked under the shade of a palm, his wrinkled expression at once authoritative and reassuringly wise. Bump is patriarch of the Mitchell family and spent his entire life in community service, first as a police officer and later on as a minister after retiring from the force. Today, Bump organizes several youth sporting activities through his Christ Missionary Baptist Church.
The Quinces were a family of professional musicians. From 1936 through the 1960s, the Quince Twins, Idell Boyer Reynolds and her brother Leonard N. Quince Jr., made their careers recording gospel albums and singing in churches with the Dixie Hummingbirds, Pilgrim Travelers, Five Blind Boys, and others. In one of the family portraits on view, Jarvis Evans and Jadon Santiago, great-grandsons of Leonard Quince Jr., show off big, toothy grins. Jadon leans into Jarvis, who wraps an arm around the young boy and holds a small hand in his own as dozens of other Quinces can be seen huddled around, smiling and embracing in a theater, awaiting the big group shot.
The Spells, a church-building family, are also impressive, for their sheer size. Getting them all together on the same day was a feat of logistics, says Kurisu. "When you look at things in a spectrum like that when you're looking at things from the '40s and the '60s and the '80s and then here you are in 2013 with family members, there must have been four generations there taking pictures, it puts it in a different perspective," she says. "We see our duplications in pictures on Facebook and online so much that you almost become inured to photographic representation. What we hope happens in the exhibit is that the photos can actually transcend that. I really hope people will take the time to see these people as individuals and the families as a whole."
Bump — "he has so much presence, he doesn't even have to say a word," says photographer Kurisu. And "Leonard Quince, he's a character. He can sit in the middle of multigenerational hubbub and just look perfectly at ease and kind of like a rascal. These are all people who have lived really rich lives, and you feel that when you meet them, even if it's for five minutes."
The show includes firsthand materials donated by the families, like snapshots from the '40s and awards and newspaper articles from the '60s. The images are hung in a variety of frames and sizes, giving the show an eclectic, mishmashed feel.
Kurisu describes a series of three pictures in the same format of little babies, in chairs in the lawn, or on a blanket in the lawn. "It's the kind of photo that everybody takes of their baby in every decade," she says. "You don't even have to know who it is; you don't have to know who that baby is or know their name or who took the photo, and you can kind of appreciate that human impulse. It becomes timeless.
"The people that we photographed in particular are people who are business owners and pastors and police officers; they've held somewhat public roles and to some extent have been acknowledged throughout their lives. But where they came from, and many of the other members of their family might come from, might be quiet lives that nobody ever writes about, and I hope that this exhibit also reminds you of that," Kurisu continues. "You don't have to be black, you don't have to have a huge family, you don't have to know these people to appreciate what they've done and the value of family and legacy."