Rising Above: Entertainment and the Struggle for African American Identity

Exhibit Open - October 2016 - September 2017

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   “Rising Above: Entertainment and the Struggle for African American Identity” is an exhibition that explores the evolution of the image of African Americans in popular culture from the late nineteenth century to the present.

   An original, autographed copy of the 1934 pamphlet "The Dilemma of the Negro Actor" written by Clarence Muse, the first African American to star in a film and arguably the most prolific black actor in history, forms the backbone of the exhibit. It highlighted the difficult choice faced by African American actors of his day: whether to reject the demeaning characters offered them or to take them and prove themselves superior to such roles. Muse himself opted for the later and a chance to rise above Hollywood's expectations.

   The exhibition continues with many other objects to explore the evolution of the image of African Americans in entertainment throughout the twentieth century.

   A large collection of historic objects on special loan from Norman Towels, a retired local educator and major collector of African American history, bring the story to life from the first issue of Ebony magazine to comic books and movie posters to original vinyl records.

   This limited engagement exhibit brings to life the little-known contributions of local entertainers to the image of African Americans including Riverside's own Etta James and Perris's Clarence Muse.

About Clarence Muse -
Clarence Muse (1889-1979) was an African American lawyer, actor, composer, director, and writer.  A pioneer film actor, Muse was an active advocate for the equality of African Americans in entertainment, whose roles pushed the boundaries of racist stereotypes in mainstream films.  Muse worked until his death in 1979 and is an inductee to the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame.

Rising Above Film Series, the Museum presents this film series which features Clarence Muse and other African American actors

Second Floor Gallery
Sunday 11:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m., 3:00 p.m.
Tuesday – Saturday 10:30 a.m., 1:00 p.m., 3:00 p.m.

March, 2017
1-5: Car Wash (1976)
7-12: Way Down South (1939)
14-19: Spirit of Youth (1938)
22-26- Black Stallion (1979)

Collection On Loan from Dr. Norman Towels -
Dr. Towels retired from the Val Verde Unified School District as Assistant Superintendent of Student Services. He had previously served as Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources, Assistant Superintendent of Personnel Services, Director of Personnel and Director of Educational Services. Other experience includes working as a Special Projects Coordinator, a teacher and teaching mentor. Towels also served as a counselor at Riverside Juvenile Hall for 26 years. He also started and directed the Val Verde Student Success Academy, an alternative school that graduated more than 200 at-risk students in the last five years. Seventy-five percent of those students passed the state’s High School Exit Exam.  He is the CEO of the Perris Community Partnership