In 1967, Detroit experienced one of the most brutal race rebellions in its history. In the early hours of June 23rd, the police raided an after hours club. Expecting to find a few people inside, they instead found 82 individuals. Everyone was arrested and escorted from the building, and as this happened, a crowd of 200 people gathered. As the night slowly crept into the next morning, violence and looting emerged on Twelfth Street, and the Detroit rebellion was underway. The rebellion carried on for five days. Mayor Jerome Cavanagh initially sought to quash the uprising with police units, but failed to gain support for this tactic as many African Americans in the city deemed the police the problem. In 1968, a year after Detroit’s violent rebellion, a local community organizer named Frank Ditto contacted muralists Bill Walker and Eugene Eda Wade, asking them to create a mural in his local community. Wanting to create a mural that could project an expression of black unity during a time of racial pain, Walker and Wade set about creating the Wall of Dignity. Painted on the façade of an abandoned ice-skating rink, the mural was broken down into three main sections. The top half of the mural depicted diasporic scenes of ancient life in Africa, whilst the middle section functioned as a collection of portraits of prominent African American men and women who sacrificed their lives by fighting for black liberation throughout history. The faces of Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., Mary McLeod Bethune and Stokely Carmichael line the wall. The bottom section of the mural, enveloping the words ‘The Wall of Dignity’, depicts scenes of enslavement. Silhouetted figures of manacled men and women stretching their chains taut as they stretch for freedom are countered by figures raising their unshackled hands to the sky in moment of liberty. Towards the left-hand side of the mural, a poem titled ‘Slave Ship’ reads:
I am a prince, speak with respect I shall not be chained to your Bloody deck To live in this filth and stench? Ooooaaee a poor soul have died on his bench This meaning does burst the drums of my ears Long hours from my home seem like years A prince to ear the food of jackals!! My arms, my leg bleed from your shackles You must look to my woman What had been done to one so sweet, so mild? AAAHHH! Within here was my child. Strange tongued-golden haired man I will not journey to your land. Leave me…leave me be… Cast my carcass into the sea The sea.. Black..Black like me.
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 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 2002, with support from the Freedom School Mural Arts Project, Parris Stancell created a mural in West Philadelphia titled Freedom School. The mural sets the faces of Malcolm X, Ella Baker, Martin Luther King Jr., and Frederick Douglass against the backdrop of the American and Black Liberation flags. It depicts Douglass in his younger years, and refers to Malcolm X as Malcolm Shabazz – a composite of his names in the latter years of his life; Malcolm X and el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz. The mural also champions women's activiism through Ella Baker’s quotation, “We who believe in freedom cannot rest.”
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.
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.
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 1990, muralist Maurice Myron Jenkins created an alternative version of Leonardo da Vinci’s 1494 fresco The Last Supper. The 30 by 19 foot mural depicts the last supper with a black Christ and 12 historical black figures as the prophets. Jenkins chose the Union Temple Baptist Church in Anacostia, Washington D.C. as his canvas because of its role in black history all the way back to its affiliation with Anacostia-resident Frederick Douglass in the 19th century.The mural includes the antislavery figures of Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass, as well as Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X, Mary McLeod Bethune, Nelson Mandela, Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois.
Mary Patten painted Douglass Street Mural – Cityarts Workshop’s first Brooklyn-based project – in 1976. Over a five-month period, Patten led a group of 20 teens and adults to develop various themes for the mural that would be located on Douglass Street in the Park Slope area of Brooklyn - an area more commercial than residential at the time. Community meetings and bilingual flyers filled the neighbourhood in the hope of garnering community input and consensus over the choice of imagery. The three-storey mural takes advantage of the building's structure by presenting the image as book pages waiting to be read. The dystopian nightmare to the right-hand side of the mural attempts to encroach on the multicultural utopian melting pot to the left, only to be fended off by workers and important figures from U.S. history. Folded into the Puerto Rican flag and the red, white and green banner of the African National Congress, are the images of Harriet Tubman, pointing towards the nightmare-scape, alongside Frederick Douglass, Lolita Lebrón, Malcolm X and H. Rap Brown. Under the imperialist eagle and puppet-like figure in its talons, Patten depicts a recent firebombing that had destroyed the homes of several Black families a few blocks away. Speaking of the large rainbow in the image, the muralist incorporated it to show "what is possible when people work and fight together to create what we need: a community school that provides quality education; people sharing skills and tools; dancing together; making music and painting a mural."The mural sought to convey hope and determination in the face of oppression. But by the 1980s, the mural had become obscured by new housing developments.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
In 1990, this mural titled Nation of Islam at Charles Place in Brooklyn was created. The mural unites many radical figures of black history, including the antislavery leader Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Du Bois, Elijah Muhammad, H. Rap Brown, Malcolm X, Marcus Garvey, Eldridge Cleaver and Bobby Seale. It has now been destroyed.
Woodrow Nash created a mural for the Odom Branch Library in the 1970s, depicting the antislavery leader Frederick Douglass alongside Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. In 1999, the library was remodelled and expanded to around 12,000 square feet. With the expansion came two new murals about black history. The original mural was edited – this time to incorporate the antslavery leader Sojourner Truth. By adding Truth to the mural, Nash was trying to reflect the contribution of women to the liberation struggle.
This mural was painted on 3260 23rd St, between Mission and Capp Streets, in San Francisco by Susan Caruso Green, and was a community collaboration between muralists and local residents. It brings together faces from global history who have fought for civil rights, including the antislavery leader Harriet Tubman, Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr.
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.