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Diego Rivera, Panel V of Portrait of America, New Workers School, New York City, 1933 [destroyed] (2).jpg

Portrait of America

In 1933, the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera painted a 21-panel mural titled Portraits of America. Created for New York City’s New Workers School, the mural focused on issues of racial inequality and depicted the antislavery figures Frederick Douglass and John Brown, as well as shackled slaves - seen here in panel five of the mural. Rivera believed art was a weapon in the class struggle and frequently produced murals about revolution. Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros and José Clemente Orozco were the pioneers of the Mexican mural movement, and influenced mid-century African American muralists Hale Woodruff, John Biggers and Charles White. 

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The Dreams of Harriet Tubman

In 2000, muralist Mike Alewitz planned on creating a series of murals about the heroes of the abolitionist movement, titled The Dreams of Harriet Tubman. Alewitz’s goal was to have the Dreams series as a necklace of murals across the state of Maryland with the flagship mural on a major wall in the city of Baltimore. This mural would depict Harriet Tubman, who was also known as Moses. In a pre-circulated plan on Black Radical Congress General News, Alewitz described how the flagship mural would have an army of freedom fighters (Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Mumia Abu Jamal, Sojourner Truth and Robert Gould) standing behind a musket-wielding Tubman. But the mural stirred up controversy when the group who had planned to display the mural, the Associated Black Charities Inc., decided the piece could be construed as racist and violent. Alewitz was asked to replace the musket but he refused: “I will not disarm Harriet Tubman. I won’t take [the musket] out of her hands.” The lack of a major wall was a setback for the Dreams series and another of the murals, on a wall in Hartford County, was defaced in the summer of 2000 by racist graffiti.

Anonymous, W Florence & S Western Aves, South-Central LA (Black Neighborhood), 1999 [destroyed].jpg

Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Frederick Douglass

This mural of Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and the abolitionist Frederick Douglass appeared in south-central LA in 1999 and had been destoyed by 2010. 

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Now and Then

In 1996, the Rafael Elementary School in San Francisco changed its name to Rosa Parks Elementary School, and the San Francisco School Board president commissioned a mural to mark the new name. The mural was a community effort by students from the Art Institute, the Academy of Art and San Francisco State University. It aimed to make children aware of Rosa Parks. Once the mural was finished, Parks herself came to unveil it. Also included on the wall are the antislavery figures Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, as well as Thurgood Marshal and W.E.B. Du Bois. 

Keir Johnston and Ernel Martine, The Faces That Shape Us, Uncle David’s Universal Playground, 15th and Catherine Streets, Philadelphia, 2011.png

The Faces That Shape Us

On May 25, 2011, a mural titled The Faces That Shape Us, was dedicated in Uncle David’s Playground. Mr Kenneth Gamble (pictured on the mural), the founder and chairman of Universal Companies, had bought a rundown building in South Philadelphia and tore it down. He wanted to bring something positive to the neighbourhood and so he funded a local children’s playground, complete with a mural. Muralists Keir Johnston and Ernel Martinez started the mural in the summer of 2010. The mural features Frederick Douglass and other historical figures such as W.E.B. Du Bois, George Washington Carver and James Baldwin, as well as local figures Dr. Emmett Chapell, Judge Frederica Jackson, and Faatimah Gamble. The mural was developed through a partnership with Universal Companies, the Philadelphia Prison System and the City of Philadelphia Department of Human Services. 

Curtis Lewis, African Amalgamation of Ubiquity, 9980 Gratiot Avenue, Detroit, Michigan, 1985 [destroyed in 2013].jpg

African Amalgamation of Ubiquity

In 1985, muralist Curtis Lewis created a mural on the side of a drug rehabilitation centre on Gratiot Avenue, Detroit, Michigan. The building belonged to Operation Get Down and included the antislavery figures Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, as well as Malcolm X, Mary McLeod Bethune, Jesse Jackson, Thurgood Marshall, Martin Luther King Jr., W.E.B. Du Bois, Booker T. Washington, Ida B. Wells, Marcus Garvey and Nelson Mandela, alongisde Egyptian, Nubian and pharaoh figures. The man who breaks free of his chains in the centre of the mural holds a sign that reads, “Behold my people, arise, stand strong and proud, for ye come from pharaohs, emperors, kings and queens.” The mural was destroyed in 2013.

John Weber, All Power to the People, Cabrini-Green Public Housing Development, 357 W. Locust St, Chicago, 1969 [destroyed].jpg

All Power to the People

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.

Moses X. Ball et al, Black Seeds, Jefferson Blvd & 3rd Ave (Black neighborhood), LA, 1991 (2).jpg

Black Seeds

In 1991, a group of artists – Eddie Orr, David Mosley, William T. Stubbs, Norman Maxwell and Michael McKenzie – collaborated to paint “Black Seeds” on an empty wall in Leslie N. Shaw Park on Jefferson and 3rd Avenue in Los Angeles. The idea for the mural, which appears as an African American tree of life, came from Vietnam veteran and local activist Gus Harris Jr. He recalled how little he learned about African American history in school. He wanted to create a public mural about black individuals who made an important contribution to society.The mural was created under the Social and Public Art Resource Center's 1990-91 “Neigborhood Pride: Great Walls Unlimited” mural program and features the antislavery leaders Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, as well as Booker T. Washington, Thurgood Marshall, Mary McLeod Bethune, Malcolm X, George Washington Carver, Paul Robeson, Stevie Wonder, Shirley Chisholm, Martin Luther King Jr., and Jesse Jackson. The mural was restored by Moses X. Ball to include Barack Obama after 2008. The original canvas upon which the mural was based hangs in Oaks Jr. Market Corner Store at 5th and Jefferson.

Sean Williams, Douglass, Redux Studios, 136 St. Philip Street, Charleston.JPG

Strong Children

Painted by Charleston-based artist Sean Williams, this mural depicts the antislavery leader Frederick Douglass in the younger phase of his life, and uses his statement from in 1855, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” The mural is in a church parking lot in Charleston, South Carolina.

Joshua Sarantitis, Lincoln Legacy, 707 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, 2006 (2).jpg

Lincoln Legacy

This large mural by Joshua Sarantitis, Lincoln Legacy, can be read from left to right, moving from Africa to America. The shape of Africa adorns the backdrop until the wooden boards of the slave ship transform into the American flag. Around the young child’s neck are three medallions: Abraham Lincoln’s face, Josiah Wedgwood’s abolitionist icon “Am I Not a Man and a Brother,” and Frederick Douglass' face. Made up of over 1 million glass mosaic tiles, it is the largest Venetian glass tile mural in Philadelphia at over 10,000 square feet. Located a block away from the Liberty Bell and Independence Mall, it is one of the few murals to be created in Philadelphia’s wealthier districts.

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Wall of Truth

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.

Parkview Recreation Center Mural, Northwest at Otis Pl (Black Neighborhood), Washington DC, 1990s [destroyed 2010].jpg

Parkview Recreation Center Mural

This mural was painted in the 1990s on the side of the Parkview Recreation Center in northwest Washington D.C. It depicts the faces of Thurgood Marshall, Mary McCleoud Bethune and the antislavery leader Frederick Douglass. In 2010 the mural was repainted and includes the same faces. 

Leboriae P. Smoore and others, Scenes from the Bayview Opera House, 3rd St. at Oakdale, San Francisco, 1995.jpg

Scenes from the Bayview Opera House

Painted in 1995 in San Francisco by artist Leboriae P. Smoore, this mural acts as a children’s textbook in the street, teaching about the antislavery leaders Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, and other black figures: Carter G. Woodson, Mary McLeod Bethune, W.E.B. Du Bois, Ida B. Wells, and Jackie Robinson.

St. George, Frederick Douglass, 708 Traction Ave, Los Angeles, 2013 (2).jpg

Frederick Douglass

The artist St George completed this stencil of a young Frederick Douglass in 2013. It had been destroyed by 2017.

Wings of Faith, 97th St at Avalon Blvd, Los Angeles (Black Neighborhood), 2005.jpg

Wings of Faith

In 2005, an anonymous artist painted a mural in Los Angeles that depicted many heroes of African American history. The faces of antislavery leaders Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass, alongside Muhammad Ali, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Rosa Parks, lined the street. By 2015, the building had fallen into disrepair and the mural had been destroyed.

Mike Alewitz, The City at the Cross Roads of History, New York City, 2014.tif

The City at the Crossroads of History

In 2011, the Puffin Foundation commissioned Mike Alewitz to paint a mural for the Puffin Gallery of Social Activism that would be on display in the Museum of the City of New York. Completed in 2014, the mural is a tribute to the labour and social justice movements and contains four panels. It includes slave ships and depicts the antislavery leader Frederick Douglass, as well as Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn.However after viewing the mural, the museum declined to display it. They requested changes that reduced the prominence of Martin Luther King Jr. and added the Women’s Christian Temperance Union.  Alewitz calls this a case of censorship and continues to campaign for his mural to be displayed.

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Women Warriors

In 2001, Brooklyn-based muralist Leola Bermanzohn created a mural in the Flatbush area of Brooklyn titled Women Warriors. Bermanzohn works as a muralist for the Groundswell organisation, launched in 1996 with the mission of bringing together artists, youth and community organisations to create murals that beautify local neighbourhoods and give expression to underrepresented ideas and perspectives. Women Warriors was created in collaboration with Sister Outsider – an organisation run by and for women of colour that aimed to help women enter the professional world of work and operate in the political realm. The mural was at the organisation’s headquarters and depicted antislavery leaders Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth as well as Nefertiti, Rosa Parks and Assata Shakur, alongside a poem written by Audre Lorde. It had been destroyed by 2015.

Munir D. Mohammed,The Shoulders of Heroes We Lean On, Rhode Island Black Heritage Society, Providence, 2012.jpg

The Shoulders of Heroes We Lean On

This mural was created in 2012 by Munir D. Mohammad for the Rhode Island Black Heritage Society, one of the oldest African heritage organisations in the country. Titled The Shoulders of Heroes We Lean On, the mural depicts giants of black history, including the antislavery leader Frederick Douglass, as well as the silhouettes of athletes, musicians and scholars.

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Life and Times of Frederick Douglass

In 1972, artist LeRoy Foster created this mural for the Douglass Branch of the Detroit Public Library. The mural depicts a meeting between Frederick Douglass and John Brown that took place on March 12, 1859, seven months before Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry. The mural contains three likenesses of Douglass in various stages of his life – the most prominent being the shirtless figure in the centre of the mural. The second largest figure of Douglass portrays him with the leonine, statesmen persona that he embodied later in his life. Finally, the smallest Douglass likeness is the seated figure speaking with John Brown. This small scene marks a pivotal moment in Douglass' life. In 1859 he had to make the decision between fighting with Brown (embodying the chain-breaking version of himself in the mural), or surviving to become a political leader. Choosing not to take up arms at Harper's Ferry, an attack that led to the execution of Brown for treason, Douglass chose the elder statesman person - and lived to 1895.

Alfred Smith, The Dignity of Work, W Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue (Black Neighborhood), Anacostia, Washington DC, 1989.jpg

The Dignity of Work

In 1989, muralist Alfred Smith painted a mural in Anacostia, D.C., near Frederick Douglass’ residence during the last years of his life. It depicted the silhouette of Douglass alongside scenes from a labour protest. The mural, titled The Dignity of Work, contains a quotation from a speech by Douglass in 1888 before the International Council of Women. The mural had been destroyed by 2016.