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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 1970, a group of seven black UCLA art students created a mural titled The Black Experience on the first floor of the Ackerman Student Union building. The mural, which measures 10 feet by 27 feet, was obscured for 20 years by a false wall erected in front of it during building renovations in 1992. Then in 2013, the mural was restored. “It was important in 1970, as it is today, to address issues of racial disparity on the UCLA campus,” one of the artists, Helen Singleton said. “Our mission in creating ‘The Black Experience’ mural was to expand and enhance that effort with a visual representation of the history and experience of African Americans in the United States.” The seven art students, Helen Singleton, Marian Brown, Neville Garrick, Andrea Hill, Jane Staulz, Joanne Stewart and Michael Taylor, are all depicted in the mural, alongside silk-screened graphics of the antislavery leaders Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, alongside Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Bobby Seale, Huey P. Newton, Muhammad Ali, and Angela Davis. “We learned a lot about our history by exploring what images to use,” said Garrick, who was a freshman from Jamaica when he participated in the art project. In 2012, the effort to uncover the mural gained momentum after members of the Afrikan Student Union brought the mural to the attention of the Associated Students UCLA board of directors. At the unveiling in 2013, both Singleton and Garrick were guests of honour, along with activist Angela Davis.
The muralist David Fichter adapted Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous quotation “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards freedom,” for this 2002 mural in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The mural features Susan B. Anthony, Rosie the Riveter, William Lloyd Garrison and W.E.B. Du Bois, as well as a young Frederick Douglass.At around the same age as he appears in this mural, Douglass gave a speech in nearby Boston on February 8, 1855 where he drew attention to the psychological impact of enslavement: “Whipping is not what constitutes the cruelty of Slavery," explained Douglass. “To me the thought that I am a slave is more terrible than any lash, than any chain.”
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.
In 2009, Wardell McClain created a mural on South Champlain Avenue in Chicago, Illinois titled Sim's Corner Wall of Respect, that took its inspiration from the 1967 mural, Wall of Respect. It includes the faces of the abolitonists Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and Sojourner Truth as well as Martin Luther King Jr., Jesse Jackson, Malcolm X, Harold Washington, Elijah Muhammad, Nelson Mandela, Michael Jordan, Coretta Scott King, Marcus Garvey and Booker T. Washington.
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.
Ed Trask, a Richmond-based muralist, created this mural in 2011 at the Seven Hills School in Richmond. It depicts the antislavery leader Frederick Douglass, as well as local figures Maggie Walker, Oliver W. Hill and Spottswood Robinson III. The other side of the building depicts Langston Hughes and W.E.B. Du Bois.
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.
In 1986, muralist David Fichter created a mural on the side of the Paul Robeson Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia. The mural was sponsored by the city of Atlanta, and depicts Harriet Tubman leading slaves to freedom via the Underground Railroad, against a quilted backdrop..
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.”
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 1970, a mural titled Racism appeared in the Cabrini-Green Housing Projects in Chicago’s southside. It celebrated black women who had been key participants in the struggle for black liberation. The mural depicted the faces of Nina Simone, Angela Davis and Kathleen Cleaver, along with the names of Aunt Jemima, Betty Shabazz, Cleopatra, Mary McLeod Bethune, Coretta Scott King and the abolitionist Sojourner Truth. The mural was defaced with white paint shortly after its completion.
In 1976, the Mexican muralist Manuel Martinez created a mural at Auraria College titled Races of the Student Population. It depicts the antislavery leader Frederick Douglass alongside figures of the Black Power Movement including Bobby Seale, and figures and symbols of the African diaspora.
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.