The project began in 1987 when Central Club approached Reading Borough Council about the possibility of a mural project. A project steering group was set up consisting of representatives of Central Club, Reading Borough Council and Berkshire County Council (who then ran Central Club as part of the Youth and Community Service). It was agreed that the project should aim to achieve a number of objectives:
· A high quality visual artwork
· Community involvement – both Central Club members and the wider community
· Reflecting African Caribbean culture, since Central Club had a high proportion of African Caribbean members
In 1988 a number of artists were interviewed, and Alan Howard was offered the commission. Alan was keen to encourage the involvement of Central Club members both in a consultative capacity but also more directly in the design and execution of the mural. An apprenticeship scheme was established, where a limited number of people were offered the opportunity to work alongside Alan and receive training in planning, design and technical skills.
The process of planning the mural involved a number of steps:
· Wide ranging discussions with Central Club members and the wider African Caribbean community
· Consultation with funders – Reading Borough Council and Earley Charities
· Consultation with neighbouring residents and businesses in the London Street area
Out of this process the theme for the mural emerged, and it was agreed that the mural should depict the positive role that black people have played throughout history, including in Reading itself. The mural therefore includes figures such as Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King and Bob Marley as well as Reading-based people involved in founding Central Club. The final panel of the mural and the various symbols look to the future and depicts a number of tools – positive and negative – that people use to shape the future.
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.
Borrowing its name from the 1967 “Wall of Respect” of Chiacgo, muralists Ashanti Johnson, Nathan Hoskins and Verna Parks installed their own public artwork in Atlanta. The abolitionist Frederick Douglass is alongside Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and W.E.B. Du Bois, with the North Star between them. Angela Davis and Muhammad Ali are also present. The mural was destroyed in 2007.
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.”
In 1860, Frederick Douglass took to the stage at Boston's African Meeting House to give his speech, “A Plea for Free Speech in Boston.” Muralists Deborah Browder and Heidi Schork transcribed words from the speech onto their mural at Hammond and Tremont Street. “Liberty is meaningless when the right to utter one’s thoughts and opinions has ceased to exist,” Douglass pronounced in 1860. Three years later, in the same Meeting House on Joy Street, Beacon Hill, African American soldiers, including two of Douglass’ sons, were recruited into the Fifty-fourth Regiment of the Massachusetts Infantry under the leadership of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw.
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.
William Eduardo Scott completed this mural in 1943. The mural depicts a historical meeting during which the abolitionist Frederick Douglass advised President Lincoln to enlist black soldiers into the Union Army during the Civil War. A national competition was held for this mural commission, part of a series installed in the Recorder of the Deeds Building in Washington D.C. Artists were asked to depict episodes from African American history. Out of 300 applicants, seven were selected. Scott was the only African American artist. The subjects of the other panels were Crispus Attucks, Benjamin Banneker, the death of Colonel Shaw at Fort Wagner, slaves building bulwarks from cotton bales at the Battle of New Orleans, Cyrus Tiffany saving Commodore Perry’s life at the Battle of Lake Erie, and Matthew Henson planting the American flag at the North Pole.
In 2014, Rochester's Shawn Dunwoody created a mural on the Interstate 490 bridge over West Main Street. It depicts the abolitionist Frederick Douglass, as well as Susan B. Anthony, Nathaniel Rochester and Austin Steward - all famous Rochester figures
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.
In 1941, the artist Charles White was awarded $2000 from the Julius Rosenwald Fellowship for an ambitious project that included the creation of Contribution of the Negro to Democracy in America. Two years later, he unveiled the mural at the Hampton Institute in Virginia.The central figure has chains around his wrists that also loop around the necks of three other figures. But the shackles on the figure’s wrists are ready to be broken by the abolitionists: Frederick Douglass, Nathaniel Turner, Denmark Vesey, Harriet Tubman and Peter Still.
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.
Ethiopian artist Mekbib Gebertsadik put the abolitionist Frederick Douglass alongside President Lincoln, the abolitionist John Brown, Malcolm X, President Obama and Michelle Obama. Titling the mural From Menelik I to Obama, Gebertsadik also placeed Douglass on a timeline of diasporic history that starts with Menelik I, the first Solomonic Emperor of Ethiopia in 950 BC, to President Barack Obama, the first African American president. The mural is a few blocks away from the White House at the Gospel Rescue Ministries homeless shelter, acting as a symbol of hope for those passing through. “Primarily, the clients we serve are African American and [the mural is] an inspiration to our clients of being able to dream” explains Earl Murray, Associate Director for Development and Marketing for Gospel Rescue Ministries.
In 2008, muralist K. Fitch painted a mural of Frederick Douglass in the abolitionist's former home town of Rochester, New York. The mural depicts Douglass in the later years of his life. It had been destoyed by 2014.
In 2010, muralist Michael Kirby created a Maryland mural titled Paradise that depicts scenes of American progress. It includes the abolitionist Frederick Douglass and other historical figures.
In 1959 the Hungarian-American illustrator and muralist Hugo Gellert created the series Seward Park Housing Murals. The four-panel mural series depicts Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Albert Einstein and was commissioned by the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. The Abraham Lincoln panel has an abolitionist section that features Frederick Douglass, John Brown, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth and William Lloyd Garrison.The mural was threatened with destruction many times, including in 1996 when the building residents voted to become a private co-op. Individuals on the co-op board then voted to rid the lobby of the murals that they deemed racist, ugly, socialist or 'past their time.' But the building manager, Frank Durant, insisted on their preservation.
G. Byron Peck created this mural in Washington D.C. on the side of a boutique hotel called the Swiss Inn. In 2002, the mural was lost from public view when a luxury apartment complex was built next door, against the mural wall. The image depicts multiple stages of Frederick Douglass’ life against the backdrop of the American flag. In the 1990s, Peck became well-known in Washington D.C. after covering more than 300,000 square feet of the city's walls with his murals. Peck is now the founder, artistic firector and lead artist for all City Arts murals in the D.C. area.
In 1938, Aaron Douglas returned to Fisk University as an assistant professor of Art Education, and it was during his summer there that he, under the aegis of the Treasury Department’s Treasury Relief Arts Projects, created the mural Education of the Colored Man, for the Atlantic City Holmes Village Housing Project in New Jersey. The mural depicts a young Frederick Douglass standing before a small crowd—a civil war solider, a former slave, a sharecropper and a seamstress—who listen to his words. Behind them is a growing metropolis, representing the industrial expansion of the urban north. The art project was funded by the Treasury Relief Arts Project (TRAP) and the Works Progress Administration (WPA).
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.
An unknown artist painted this mural in Harlem, New York City, on the facade of Dining Heritage. It depicts the abolitionists Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, as well as Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Jesse Jackson and Malcolm X. It was destroyed in 2015.
Painted in 2012 by MTC Studio, the mural depicts the black abolitionist Frederick Douglass shaking hands with President Abraham Lincoln. An older version of Douglass is offset to the right side of the mural. The mural site is adjacent to the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site in Anacostia, Washington D.C.