Estate sale shows Black power couple’s rich history and collection of treasures

Chicago News

Art, artifacts and books shed light on Etta Moten Barnett and husband Claude's fascinating life

CHICAGO — An estate sale in Chicago this weekend in opening the doors to the public and sharing the story of a Black power couple.

She was a trailblazing actress, singer, cultural ambassador and philanthropist. He was a media entrepreneur, advancing the stories of Black people across the globe with his Associated Negro Press.

Etta Moten Barnett and husband Claude made their home in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood, on what’s now King Drive. Now, the family’s collection of carefully preserved treasures is now up for sale.

“You see the photos, you see the letters, you see the little mementos, it’s really interesting how you put it all together and you see this picture, you know there’s times I read documents and I weep. And I try to stay professional in front of my staff and I weep because some of these things are so private and so important and I feel so honored and so humbled to be able to be a part of this,” Lynne Rousseau McDaniel of Estate Sale Goddess said.

Rousseau McDaniel is managing the Barnett Estate sale. She and her husband Ty also own the vintage furniture shop An Orange Moon.

“I liken this to being on an archaeological dig. We unearth and we uncover so many items,” Rousseau McDaniel said.

Among the discoveries are rare books and artwork, African sculptures, along with fine china and crystal.

“It’s so many pieces of arts, so many pieces of artifacts and the books,” Rousseau McDaniel said.

Many pictures and personal letters were found as well, including one from the White House and another one from Sidney Poitier, marking Etta’s 100th birthday in 2001. She died two years later.

“You read that letter that Sidney Poitier wrote to her and he said she was the most vivacious and voluptuous woman he ever met in his life. She was elegant. She was a lady and she was always like that. It wasn’t a performance, this is who she was,” Rousseau McDaniel said.

Etta Moten Barnett broke ground in film, even though she didn’t always get the credit she deserved. George Gershwin even had her in mind when he wrote ‘Porgy and Bess’.

“When I look at her in her career, I certainly know that many may not know that she was one of those actresses, who was a breakthrough Black actress not portraying that stereotypical role of a maid or a servant,” Sherry Williams said.

Williams is the founder and director of the Bronzeville Historical Society, and says that the neighborhood is bursting with hidden history.

“I mean everyone has a cell phone, everyone has a way to use their camera, or even the audio and I think that’s going to be one of the ways that we can begin not losing the stories, is that we all become, you know, stewards of this history,” Williams said.

The Estate Sale is open to the public Saturday and Sunday, with more information available here.

For Rousseau McDaniel, it’s a mission of bringing the history of families like the Barnett’s to new audiences for preservation and inspiration.

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