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 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 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.
Titled A Man and His Struggles, this mural by Magic Fingers is in the Oak Park area of Chicago and depicts the first African American mayor of the city, Harold Washington, alongside Martin Luther King Jr., Jesse Jackson, and the antislavery leader Frederick Douglass. In 2016, artists updated the mural, to add the Pan-African flag along its bottom edge.
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.
In 1968, after the success of Chicago’s Wall of Respect in 1967, muralist Leroy White painted Wall of Respect/Up You Mighty Race in St. Louis, Missouri. The mural was self-sponsored. After seeing Chicago’s Wall of Respect in Ebony, muralists in St. Louis were inspired to create public art in the Carr Square area of the city. The mural was completed by a coalition of individuals from civil rights groups, including CORE, ACTION, and the Zulu 1200s. It displayed a pantheon of black heroes, including the antislavery leaders Frederick Douglass, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., and Marcus Garvey. The mural quickly became a hub of black activism—bringing together artists, performers and political figures in a series of concerts and rallies at the site. But it was vandalised during the 1970s, and its building was razed in the 1980s.
Borrowing its name from the 1967 “Wall of Respect” of Chiacgo, muralists Ashanti Johnson, Nathan Hoskins and Verna Parks installed their own public artwork in Atlanta. The abolitionist Frederick Douglass is alongside Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and W.E.B. Du Bois, with the North Star between them. Angela Davis and Muhammad Ali are also present. The mural was destroyed in 2007.