Jacob Lawrence painted this scene after a visit to New Orleans in 1941. Though he had been told stories of the South and even depicted them in the numerous canvases of his Migration series, this was the first time he had been faced head-on with the realities of the heightened racism and Jim Crow laws of the South.
Alston was inspired by the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama to paint his striking abstract scene entitled Walking. Rather than painting one of the more well-known figures of the movement—such as Rosa Parks or Martin Luther King Jr.—he chose to focus his scene on the nondescript forms of women and children who walked to work and school day after day in protest of the segregated city buses.
In addition to the enactment of Jim Crow laws that barred them access to many basic civil rights, African Americans and other minorities were also menaced by the threat of attacks from white supremacist groups. In this almost abstract depiction with flamelike swirls of red and blue infiltrating masses of gray gloom and tiny jagged figures of white, Lewis alludes to the ominous nighttime meetings of groups like the Ku Klux ****. The mingling of red, white, and blue call to mind the American flag, which was often flown at such gatherings—using the façade of patriotism to justify their hatred and attacks.
Andy Warhol was known to blur the line between art and mass media. In the 1960s, he began to create a variety of prints based on images from popular media such as news sources and magazines, which he would then alter and display as art. This image in particular is based on a photograph taken by Charles Moore of a man being attacked by dogs under the command of the police, who were seeking to break up a series of protests against segregation in Birmingham, Alabama
Using a variety of staining techniques to achieve abstract compositions with no figurative point of reference, Sam Gilliam began using diluted acrylics to create paintings like this one in the late 60s. Without its title, the viewer has no parameters to operate within when interpreting the imagery and visual experience the painting provides. The artist entitled this abstract work April 4—the day when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968.
The late 1960s and the onset of the 70s saw the rise of the Black Power movement—a somewhat more radical offshoot of the Civil Rights movement that sought to encourage pride in Black American’s African heritage and reject the norms of conformity to white cultural standards. In this graphic print, two of the more well-known symbols of the movement are evident—their raised fists in the Black Power salute and their hair styled in afros. The bold message to “unite” is printed in bright contrasting colors in the background, in an attempt to encourage the unified efforts necessary to bring about change.
Behold the Son
David C. Driskell had just moved to the South only weeks after the infamous lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Till. Knowing the power of art to “stir the consciousness of a people,” he painted Behold thy Son in response to that horrifying event. Drawing on religious iconography and symbols from paintings of the crucifixion of Christ and the Pieta, Driskell evokes themes of innocent sacrifice in his emotional and jarring work.
Jacob Lawrence created this print to submit as part of a portfolio of art commissioned in celebration of the American Bicentennial. Artists were asked to respond to the question, “What does independence mean to you?” Of his own contribution, Lawrence said, “Among the many advantages the migrants found in the north was the freedom to vote. In my print, migrants are represented exercising that freedom.”