In 1972, a pioneer of the Chicago mural movement, William Walker, painted a mural on Strangers Home Missionary Baptist Church that was both a rallying call for social justice and a symbol of love and unity. Painted in an era of social revolution, and radical in its day, the inclusionary mural incorporated the names of individuals such as Jesus, Gandhi, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., and Anne Frank. Further down the murals are the martyrs of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements – names such as Medgar Evers, Mrs. Liuzzo, Fred Hampton, Mark Clark and Emmett Till. In December 2015, All of Mankind was suddenly destroyed. Jon Pounds, executive director of the Chicago Public Art Group (formerly known as the Chicago Mural Group), commented that the mural was a rare remnant of the civil rights era. He knew it was under threat when the church went up for sale in 2011, but preservationists had tried to protect the mural.
In 1969, in the courtyard of Saint Dominic’s Church in Cabrini-Green, John Pitman Weber painted All Power to the People with a team of black teenagers. The 37-foot-long mural put the antislavery leader Frederick Douglass alongside Malcolm X, Huey P. Newton and Erika Huggins on the right-hand-side. On the left are skeletons of police officers and a statement by the leader of the Chicago Black Panther Party, Fred Hampton: "Dare to Struggle, Dare to Win." A raised Black Power fist, enveloped by flames, holds broken chains in a symbol of self-emancipation. A few months after the creation of this mural, Fred Hampton was shot and killed by the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover’s COINTELPRO. Weber was a white Harvard graduate and Fulbright scholar. The mural was one of the first collaborations between untrained community residents and a trained artist, a method that became common practise for American community murals.
I Dare To Dream is a Chicago mural painted in 1995 by artist Paul Thomas Minnihan. Drawing heavily upon local history, the mural includes locals such as the Chicago Bulls player Michael Jordan, astronaut and first African American woman to travel into space, Mae C. Jemison, and Harold Washington, the first African American mayor of Chicago. Alongside the Chicago figures are the faces of Mary McLeod Bethune, Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King Jr. The west side mural was situated opposite the Douglass Branch of the Chicago Public Library, but no longer exists.
A teacher at North Lawndale College Preparatory Charter High School, Katie Bordner, created this mural with her students in 2012. It depicts the abolitionist Frederick Douglass, a mother and child and an African backdrop.
Titled Our Brothers and Sisters, this mural depicts figures of black history, including the abolitionist Frederick Douglass and also Harold Washington, Martin Luther King Jr., Booker T. Washington, Malcolm X, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Louis Armstrong.
In 1970, a mural titled Racism appeared in the Cabrini-Green Housing Projects in Chicago’s southside. It celebrated black women who had been key participants in the struggle for black liberation. The mural depicted the faces of Nina Simone, Angela Davis and Kathleen Cleaver, along with the names of Aunt Jemima, Betty Shabazz, Cleopatra, Mary McLeod Bethune, Coretta Scott King and the abolitionist Sojourner Truth. The mural was defaced with white paint shortly after its completion.
In 2011, Chicago-based muralist Lavernon Spivey painted a mural with Howard University students at the Saint Sabina Catholic Church in Chicago’s southside. The mural depicts African American heroes both local and national, past and present, including the antislavery figures Frederick Douglass Harriet Tubman, and also Mae C. Jemison, Barack Obama, Harold Washington, Martin Luther King Jr., Michael Jackson, Michelle Obama, Rosa Parks and Shirley Chisholm. The mural also includes a passage form John 14:27 that reads, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you not as the world giveth, give I unto you, let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”
In 2009, Wardell McClain created a mural on South Champlain Avenue in Chicago, Illinois titled Sim's Corner Wall of Respect, that took its inspiration from the 1967 mural, Wall of Respect. It includes the faces of the abolitonists Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and Sojourner Truth as well as Martin Luther King Jr., Jesse Jackson, Malcolm X, Harold Washington, Elijah Muhammad, Nelson Mandela, Michael Jordan, Coretta Scott King, Marcus Garvey and Booker T. Washington.
In 1970, John Pitman Weber of the Chicago Public Art Group created a mural on the wall of the Christopher Settlement House on the north side of Chicago. The mural faces a children’s playground in a predominantly white working-class area of the city and according to Weber, the neighbourhood’s anxiety regarding racial tensions in the community only emerged during the creation of the mural and related discussions with local residents. Working together, Weber and the local residents agreed that the racial concerns needed to be surfaced, and the mural would serve this purpose. It depicts narrative scenes across the wall, including daggers and guns held by both black and white individuals, black hands in handcuffs under the phrase “free all political prisoners,” (something that the Black Panther Party was pushing for in the 1960s and 1970s), and a black hand shaking a white hand under the faces of Frederick Douglass and the radical white abolitionist John Brown, who are both identified on the mural as Freedom Fighters. The mural had been destroyed by the late 20th century.
In 1970, Eugene Eda Wade painted the Wall of Meditation on the exterior façade of the Olivet Community Center. Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. anchor the middle of the mural, and are surrounded by Egyptian figures on the left, and enslaved figures breaking free from their chains on the right.
The Wall of Respect was the first exterior African American mural in the United States. Painted by OBAC (Organisation of Black American Culture), it underwent three main phases, as shown throughout the photographs here. Its creation was an inclusive process, asking local residents to decide which black heroes should be included in the mural. This was an integral step in the mural-making process because “any muralist who’s doing anything of a thoughtful nature should always have an input from the community,” artist Bill Walker observed. “You can’t do things that make people think they’re not a part of things.” Compiling a newsletter and consulting local militant street gangs, OBAC wrote a list of historic and contemporaneous figures to be memorialised on the wall, before waiting for their approval. “The militant [members of the community] were the ones that defined who would go on the wall and who would not,” artist Eugene Eda Wade remembers in a 2017 oral history interview. The choices were figures from the past and present who “charted their own course” through life and “did not compromise their humanity,” including the antislavery leader Nathaniel Turner, as well as James Brown, James Baldwin, Thelonious Monk, Malcolm X, Nina Simone, Claudia McNeil, Stokely Carmichael, H. Rap Brown, Elijah Muhammad, Gwendolyn Brooks and Muhammad Ali. By celebrating radical black heroes of the past and present, the mural became a site of black cultural heritage and an unofficial landmark on Chicago’s southside. It also catalysed a national mural movement, with more than 300 murals painted in Chicago alone over the next few decades. In 1971, the mural was destroyed in a fire.
Although sharing an address with the famous Wall of Respect, the Wall of Truth was different. Whilst the Wall of Respect exalted black role models, leaders and liberators, the Wall of Truth wove negative scenes of poverty, brutality and racism into the fabric of the urban environment. Rather than promoting racial pride, it highlighted racial disparities. “The intent on the opposite side [of the road] was that things had gone more militant,” muralist Eugene Wade explained: “more blackness was needed in terms of representing the Black Power symbol and the whole thrust of what was happening in the black community.” Wade notes that “people were getting angry and fed up, so what we were trying to do was implement the attitude and the mood."The Wall of Truth was a significantly larger mural than its Chicago neighbour, the Wall of Respect. It spanned the length of an apartment building, and wrapped around onto an adjoining wall. It contained nine separate narrative panels and was one of the first instances that a radical black past was visualised in the streets through the antislavery leaders Frederick Douglass and Nathaniel Turner, as well as Mary McLeod Bethune, W.E.B. Du Bois, H. Rap Brown, Stokely Carmichael, Marcus Garvey, Huey P. Newton, Fred Hampton, and Malcolm X.