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.
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.
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 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 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.”
John Lewis and Delia King’s Leidy School Mural is in West Phildelphia. Painted in 2004, the mural fuses history with contemporary scenes of children playing. The young African American children to the right-hand side of the mural are positioned inwards, absorbing the history of their city. The antislavery leader, Frederick Douglass, looks out to the viewer.
This mural was painted by an anonymous artist around 2007 and no longer exists, but is an important example of both the ephemeral and guerrilla nature of murals: some last for short periods of time on buildings and streets in communities. This particular mural was created in West Harlem and focused on the abolitionist Frederick Douglass. Borrowing his famous phrase from 1857, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress,” the muralist also adds a drumming figure to the centre of the mural.
In 2010 the Brooklyn-based muralist Jonathan Matas created a mural on Green Street in Ithaca under the Aurora Street Bridge. The 30 x 600 foot mural was approved by the Public Arts Commission and depicts Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman. “I think it’s a great introduction to our city,” Ithaca Planning and Development Director JoAnn Cornish said. But this was not the general consensus around the mural. The name, 'Comrade Tubman' given to Harriet Tubman on the mural has been a point of controversy for the local community. Tompkins County historian and author Carol Kammen observed: “The word comrade is historically inappropriate and anachronistic."
In 1998, Ernie Pitt, the editor of the Winston-Salem Chronicle, requested a mural that depicted the black press in the United States. Responding to his request, muralist Marianna DiNapoli-Mylet, created Looking Back, A History of the Black Press on the Winston-Salem Chronicle building, In the mural, she shows the history of the black press from 1700 through to the 1960s. The mural features Frederick Douglass most prominently in the centre, with other individuals including W.E.B. Du Bois on the periphery.
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.
Dewey Crumpler is an influential black muralist whose work is largely situated in San Francisco. In 1977, after finishing a series of murals at the George Washington High School in San Francisco, the muralist embarked upon two major projects titled The Fire Next Time I and The Fire Next Time II. For the first mural, Crumpler focused on the relationship between African and African American culture. Located at the Joseph Lee Recreation Center in Hunter’s Point-Bayview, the Fire Next Time I deals with education, culture and religion for African Americans. It moves back and forth between the figures of a teacher and a student, Harriet Tubman, Paul Robeson, and two mythical beings in African folk-lore – the Senufo birds.When Crumpler was painting the mural on Oakdale Avenue and Mendell Street in 1977, a local resident approached him and asked about the figures. Upon hearing about Tubman and Robseon, the resident responded: “They don’t live here, man. You should put up a couple of locals like Richard and Edwina. They’re a stone couple.” But a few weeks later, the resident returned and told Crumpler he was right: “black people needed to know more about important leaders so they could have somebody to respect, and besides, Richard and Edwina had broken up.” The mural also faced backlash from a local church group, because of the nude figures at the midpoint.
In 2000, a graffiti collective called Rocking The Nation (RTN) began The Crenshaw Wall, colloquially known as The Great Wall of Crenshaw. At 7,787 feet long, the mural has become a landmark for the area. The timeline depicts African American history, and features the antislavery figures Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, as well as Marcus Garvey, black soldiers from World War I, II and Vietnam, and Ethiopia’s Emperor Haile Selassie. A shackled slave breaks free from his chains and evolves into an athlete, American footballer and basketball player. Further along the mural are Black Panther Party leaders alongside Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X. The mural starts with a black woman breathing life into the mural and ends with a couple giving birth.“We finally get the chance to paint the Crenshaw Wall, and bring some black awareness to the Crenshaw Wall – to teach the history of our people, to teach our people to be proud, to teach our people love, and where we came from and where we might possibly end up,” explained Enk One of RTN.Over a decade later, the mural requires restoration and protection. RTN are working towards this goal, as well as designating the mural a historical landmark, renaming the block ‘Crenshaw Mural Square’ and developing an app that gives a visual tour of the mural.
This mural in New Bedford titled Labor History Mural and painted by Irish muralist, Dan Devenny, is a short distance away from where Frederick Douglass first lived in freedom. It is on a wall near the Bristol County Probate Court.On September 18, 1838, Douglass settled here in New Bedford after escaping from slavery in Maryland, with the help of his soon-to-be wife, Anna Murray. It was in New Bedford where Douglass experienced, for the first time, what it was like to live as a free man. His abolitionist identity started to take shape. He read his first copy of The Liberator, became a licensed preacher, gave a speech in 1839 that denounced the proposal that free slaves be forced to emigrate back to Africa, and was hired as an agent by the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society (MASS). In 1841, after attending a regional convention for the followers of William Lloyd Garrison, Douglass felt compelled to speak about his time in bondage. Inspiring the Garrisonian audience, he was shortly recruited as a lecturer for MASS. “Many students in New Bedford never learn of the importance of Frederick Douglass and his relation to the civil rights movement and this city,” said Massachusetts Senator Mark Montigny. “This mural will be a constant reminder of his prominent leadership and what he means to New Bedford.”
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.
In 1988 David Fichter, with the help of volunteers, painted the Freedom Quilt Mural on the side of the American Friends Service Committee Building in Atlanta, Georgia. The mural was created as part of the Rainbow Coalition events during the 1988 Democratic National Convention. In February 2015 the building, owned by Georgia State University, was torn down – taking the mural with it. The quilted mural is thematically focused on non-violent heroes of history that struggled for justice and peace. It includes the faces of Mubarak Awad, Nelson Mandela, Winnie Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Oscar Romero, Rogoberta Menchu, Leonard Peltier, Andrew Goodman, Fannie Lou Hamer, Daniel Berrigan, Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Mahatma Gandhi, and Lucretia Mott. It also includes the antislavery figures of Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman. Tubman points towards the North Star. Multi-racial hands stitch the quilt together, joining heroes (both famous and unknown) from all strands of history.
Muralist Al Smith painted the abolitionist Frederick Douglass as a mythic elder statesmen for this Boston mural. Douglass had visited Boston exactly 80 years, from May 28-31, 1888, when he attended the annual convention of the New England Woman Suffrage Association and delivered an address on Women’s Rights at Tremont Temple. “My special mission in the world, if I ever had any,” Douglass told his audience, “was the emancipation of enfranchisement of the negro. Mine was a great cause. Yours is a much greater cause since it comprehends the liberation and elevation of one-half of the whole human family.”