Brandan Odums’ murals are unusual because they tend to be off-limits to the public. One of the few muralists to reclaim dilapidated and abandoned building spaces as canvasses after Hurricane Katrina, Odums created a series of graffiti murals that aimed to inspire and provoke audiences. Although conscious of legal repercussions, Odums believed he had “a responsibility to influence people. If I see there’s a problem with a property that’s been sitting there for eight years, then I’m going to solve it within my own brain.” Turning a site of neglect into a site of pride, Odums used the Florida Housing Development in the Ninth Ward as his canvas for #projectbe, filling it wall-to-wall with portraits and quotations from figures that include the antislavery leader Frederick Douglass, Huey P. Newton, Nina Simone and James Baldwin. His artwork was deemed illegal due to his trespassing on private property. It was only seen in person by handful of visitors. After #projectbe ended, Odums embarked on a larger project at Degaulle Manor – a 360-unit apartment block. After speaking with the owner of the property, Odums was granted permission to temporarily use the building and invite the public. This project was called Exhibit BE. Around 35 street artists assisted and turned the abandoned building into one of the largest street exhibitions in the south, with 30,000 people visiting Exhibit BE in three months. The second mural of Douglass is from this exhibition.
In 2008, Baltimore Green Construction and Rebuilding Together Baltimore contacted Dr. Bob Hieronimus. They asked him to participate in a renovation project throughout the city, including a complete recreation of the 1996 mural A Little Help from Our Friends. The mural is located at Johns Hopkins University’s Office of Volunteer Services and features the faces of Gandhi, Jackie Robinson, Bob Marley, Bob Dylan, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and the abolitionist Harriet Tubman, among others. In 1996, the mural won the best mural award from WMAR-TV and was visited by Bob Marley’s sons, Ziggy and Stephen.
Titled A Man and His Struggles, this mural by Magic Fingers is in the Oak Park area of Chicago and depicts the first African American mayor of the city, Harold Washington, alongside Martin Luther King Jr., Jesse Jackson, and the antislavery leader Frederick Douglass. In 2016, artists updated the mural, to add the Pan-African flag along its bottom edge.
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.
During the Civil Rights Movement, African American activists held rallies and conventions at the Church of the Advocate. But people started to notice the absence of black figures from the church artwork. Father Washington remembered: “there were people who came into the church, and as they looked around they saw nothing and no one, including the figures in the stained glass windows, with whom they could identify. Everything they looked at was white, white, white. ‘How can we look at this white image for our liberation when it is our experience that it is the white man who is our oppressor?’" Upon hearing these questions, Father Washington realised that “we could see the black experience revealed and defined in religious terms, and find parallel situations in what we read in the Old Testament every Sunday.” He commissioned a series of murals for the side of the church, painted by Walter Edmonds and Richard Watson, that show parallels between the experiences endured by Hebrew slaves in Egypt and those suffered by African slaves in America.
In 1973, Cityarts Workshop muralist James Jannuzzi painted a mural in New York City about Puerto Rican abolition, gang culture and black heritage. The mural includes a shirtless, muscular figure playing drums in a tropical landscape, Nubian symbols such as the ankh next to pyramids, and Ramón Emeterio Betances – an abolitionist and the father of the Puerto Rican independence movement. In the centre of the mural, Jannuzzi painted seven spears, acknowledging the presence of the neighbourhood’s seven gangs through the use of colour. By 1978, the mural had already started to deteriorate. Wanting to use the mural as a background in a film, a production company sought out Jannuzzi, asking him to retouch sections of the mural. Having hung up his paintbrush already, Jannuzzi directed the production company to Cityarts' Alfredo “Freddy” Hernandez who retouched the mural with a Dancing Madonna. By 1995 all that remained of Afro Latin Coalition was the Dancing Madonna in her red and white dress, and by 2000, the entire mural has disappeared.
In 1998, at the height of gang related murders in the city of Boston, Jameel Parker was commissioned to paint a mural by Gang Peace, a not-for-profit, street-based programme seeking to reduce the number of murders in Boston by redirecting youths into education and career-oriented activities. In 1992, around 600 local youths between the ages of 8 and 23 participated in Gang Peace programmes. Parker’s mural, titled All in the Same Gang, was painted in Boston and became a monument to those who had died as a result of gang crime. During its creation, on the corner of the street where the mural was painted – Blue Hill Avenue and Floyd Street – a young boy named Dominic Mount was murdered. Given the immediate community outcry following his death, Parker dedicated the mural to Mount and placed his name alongside heroes of Black history; Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Du Bois, Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad. By 2016, the portraits of the African American male leaders had faded and the mural had changed to now include four black women, includng abolitionist Harriet Tubman.
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.
In 1938 the Talladega College President Buell Gallagher commissioned the muralist Hale Woodruff to paint a series of six murals about the transition from slavery to freedom. These murals were to be displayed in the Savery Library. Installed in 1939, on the centennial of the Amistad slave ship uprising, the first three mural panels depicted scenes of the mutiny: The Mutiny Aboard the Amistad (depicting the 53 Africans kidnapped from Sierra Leone to be sold into Spanish slave trade, and the uprising of Senbeh Pieh, also known as Cinque); The Trial of the Amistad Captives (depicting the first civil rights case in America) and The Repatriation of the Free Captives (depicting the repatriated slaves on the shores of Africa). The remaining three panels of the series are titled The Underground Railroad; Opening Day at Talladega College, and The Building of Savery Library. During an interview with Al Murray in 1968, Woodruff remembered: “Out of this mutiny people like Josiah Willard Gibbs, the Baldwins, Tappan and so forth, formed what was called the American Missionary Association (AMA). That was about 1840. It was out of the efforts of this organization that many of the Negro schools in the South were founded – LeMonye, Talladega, and so forth. So this mural was a gesture of appreciation on the part of Talladega for the AMA. The mural was also painted in honor of the slaves and their mutiny and their final freedom.”
Pontella Mason is one of Baltimore’s unsung visual artists. He has created murals for the Anacostia Community Museum, former President Jimmy Carter, and several other public organisations. His murals depict African American life and the diaspora. In 1999, he created the extensive mural Ancestral Roots, which depicts the antislavery heroes Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, and Frederick Douglass, as well as Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Notorious B.I.G., Tupac, Shirley Chisholm, and Marcus Garvey.
This mural was created by Harper Leich in Asheville, North Carolina in 2012 but had been destroyed by 2016. It includes the faces of Frederick Douglass, Maya Angelou, and George Washington Carver.
Two years prior to the Texas Centennial Exposition, Aaron Douglas created a four-part mural series titled Aspects of Negro Life, to be housed in the 135th Street branch of the New York Public Library, the Schomburg Center. The various panels portray black history from slavery through to present. The various panels are titled, The Negro in an African Setting, From Slavery Through Reconstruction, Song of the Towers, and An Idyll of the Deep South, and depict the breaking of chains, the idea of self-emancipation, liberation, and the celebration of African culture.
The Baltimore Wall of Pride stands in the playground at Carey and Cumberland streets in the area of Sandtown-Winchester, Baltimore, Maryland. Painted in 1992 soon after the Rodney King riots of LA, the mural became a site for protest meetings after Freddie Gray was killed in 2015, just blocks away from the mural.Painted by Pontella and Deborah Mason, the mural celebrates the heroes of black history, including Fannie Lou Hamer, James Baldwin, Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King Jr., Kwame Nkrumah, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Langston Hughes, and the antislavery figures Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman.
In 2009, the NYC Justice Corps created a mural on Nostrand Avenue and Herkimer Street in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. The NYC Justice Corps was created as part of the city’s strategy to combat poverty and has the mission to “develop the capacity of neighborhoods to address the reintegration challenges of their young adults re-entering from the criminal justice system, and to instil in those young adults a sense of civic responsibility and accountability.”The mural includes the faces of Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King Jr., Thurgood Marshall, Harriet Tubman, Malcolm X, Shirley Chisholm, Bob Marley and Huey P. Newton, as well as the antislavery figures Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass.
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.
In 2011, muralist Aniekan Udofia painted Bread for the City in Anacostia, D.C., close to the historic site of Frederick Douglass' house. The mural depicts Douglass in the younger, radical phase of his life, surrounded by doves and children, and the words “One People,” “One Community,” and “Building Together.” By 2016, the mural had been destroyed.
In 1980, on the anniversary of the founding of the Tuskegee Institute, AfriCOBRA member Nelson Stevens created a mural to celebrate the occasion. Although Stevens was commonly an exterior mural painter, he created this mural on the inside of the Tuskegee University Administration Building. The mural contains the images of black history figures such as Booker T. Washington (former president of Tuskegee University), General Chappie James and the Tuskegee airmen of World War II, Cinque, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., and George Washington Carver, as well as the antislavery figures Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass. Also included in the image is a phrase made famous by the African scholar John S. Mbiti, “I Am Because We Are.” This mural no longer exists.
In 2015, muralists David Fichter, Yetti Frenkel and Joshua Winer created a 17-foot, 3 storey mural titled Central Square Mural in the city of Lynn, Massachusetts. With input from local residents and schoolchildren, the muralists created a historic panoramic at 25 Exchange Street. Assembled in two phases, the first phase entailed artists working with students from Lynn Middle and High schools to create a mosaic arch about contemporary life in Lynn. The second phase focused on the history of the city. This section depicts the shoe industries of the 19th century, labor unrest, burning factories, Hiram Marble digging for buried treasure in Lynn Woods’ Dungeon Rock, astronomer Maria Mitchell, poet Vincent Ferrini, and, assuming a central position in the mural, the abolitionist Frederick Douglass.The mural was funded by the New England Foundation for the Arts and the Massachusetts Cultural Council.
In 1976, Eugene Eda Wade created a mural at Howard University in Washington D.C. The mural depicts the abolitionists Sojourner Truth and Nathaniel Turner attempting to break chains, as well as the abolitionists Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, and leaders Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. The mural has now been destroyed.