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.
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.