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Visual Arts in the Black Arts Movement in Chicago Resource Page



The Black Arts Movement (approximately 1965-1975) encompassed many art forms: music, literature, theater, dance, and the visual arts. Visual artists (painters, sculptors, fiber artists, photographers, filmmakers and others) were especially active in Chicago, where their work was supported by the South Side Community Art Center in particular, and where they also exchanged ideas and collaborated with practitioners of all the arts and with political activists of the Black Power era. Their imagery helps to illustrate and make more concrete the political issues of this time period, when the radical edge of the Civil Rights movement came to the fore. This website supports curriculum on the visual arts in Chicago in the decade from the mid-60s to the mid-70s. Some would say the Black Arts Movement never ended—many artists continue to be inspired by its example and to push forward its ideas in their own original way. But this site chronicles a period of especially intense creative energy when the arts were closely intertwined with political activism.

The VABAM Resource page leads to primary and secondary sources that teachers and student can use to build through own units or lesson plans or to prompt deeper research.  Due to copyright considerations, the page is limited in what it may post.  It is important to remind the user that the exclusive focus of the site is the visual arts—painting, printmaking, and photography, etc., but not the rich sources for  writing, performance/theater, and music. The webpage is supported by the Terra Foundation for American Art. Thanks to Dr. Rebecca Zorach, Mary Jane Crowe Professor of Art and Art History at Northwestern University, who led the week-long program and provided key material, including all introductory text on this webpage.

In each section, below, researchers will find some text and resources both printed and online (be it digital collections, articles, documentaries, websites).



vabam timeline

Several resources on the Web contain timelines for the Black Arts Movement that provide political and artistic context for the Movement:

The Block Museum's Wall of Respect site contains a useful timeline that includes key political and cultural events of relevance to the Black Arts Movement. To view the Timeline, click on "The Wall" tab, and then "Timeline."

This timeline (created by Brandi Hughes while a student at the University of Virginia) focuses on the national visual arts scene of the Black Arts Movement.

Cultural Front’s timeline focuses primarily on the literary arts.

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The Black Arts Movement took shape in dialogue with the Black Power Movement. Over the 1960s, many African Americans became radicalized as they experienced little material progress as the Civil Rights movement won legal and legislative battles. The assassination of Malcolm X, who had emphasized the role of culture in political struggle, pushed many artists toward political action and cultural nationalism. In these years Stokely Carmichael rose to prominence, using the phrase “Black Power” in speeches he gave around the country in 1965, as the organization he led, SNCC (the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) became steadily more militant. Black Power was about adopting a different, more aggressive attitude toward activism and toward life in America for African Americans, asserting power—acting on the assumption that one had power already—rather than passively resisting white authority or politely asking for rights. The Black Panther Party, another key symbol of Black Power, rallied many young people to the cause of Black revolution. Artists were in dialogue with and inspired by this more radical edge of the Civil Rights Movement.

vabam nava with malcom x

“The rebellion in the streets is the black ghetto’s response to the vast distance between the nation’s principles and its practices. But that the rebellion has roots which are deeper than most white people know; it is many-veined, and its blood has been sent pulsating to the very heart of black life. Across this country, young black men and women have been infected with a fever of affirmation…. They are rediscovering their heritage and their history, seeing it with newly focused eyes, struck with the wonder of that strength was has enable them to endure and in spirit, to defeat the power of prolonged and calculated oppression. After centuries of being told, in a million different ways, that they were not beautiful, and that whiteness of skin, straightness of hair, and aquilineness of features constituted the only measures of beauty, black people have revolted.” (Fuller, Towards a Black Aesthetic, 7)

Primary Sources

Stokely Carmichael, “Berkeley Speech,” in Stokely Speaks: Black Power to Pan Africanism. E.N. Minor, ed. (New York: Vintage, 1971[1965]), 45-60. http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/stokelycarmichaelblackpower.html (includes mp3)

Hoyt Fuller, “Towards a Black Aesthetic,” in The Black Aesthetic, ed. Addison Gayle (Anchor Books, 1972), pp. 3-11. “Foreword to Nommo” [Offers a brief history of OBAC], 1971.

Larry Neal, “Black Aesthetics.http://nationalhumanitiescenter.org/pds/maai3/community/text8/blackartsmovement.pdf

The Catalysts, Black Cultural Directory (1969). "This is Our Bag:Code of Ethics for Black People".

Secondary Source Readings (brief, suitable for students)

Peniel E. Joseph, Black Power's Powerful Legacy, The Chronicle Review, July 21, 2006. http://penielejoseph.com/legacy.html

”DuSable to Obama” documentary. See the section on “Power, Politics, and Pride (1941-1968)” and “Achieving the Dream.” http://www.wttw.com/main.taf?p=76,4,5

Schomburg Center, "Black Power!" https://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/beta/exhibit/hwIiQS8vVfQiLQ

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Women were key participants in all aspects of the Black Power and Black Arts Movements. Groups such as OBAC and AfriCOBRA included many women on an equal plane with men. White feminism held little appeal for most African American women in the movement because it often consciously or unconsciously disparaged Black women’s issues. Some Black women supported Black patriarchy as essential to healing traumatized Black male identities; others argued for equality of the sexes and a specifically Black form of feminism.

Primary Sources

Carolyn Rodgers, “Feelings Are Sense: The Literature of Black,” Black World, June 1970, 5–11.

Selections from Toni Cade, ed., The Black Woman (New York: Mentor Book, 1970): Toni Cade, “On the Issue of Roles,” 101-110; Joyce Green, “Black Romanticism,” 137-142; Gwen Patton, “Black People and the Victorian Ethos,” 143-148.

“The Combahee River Statement” http://circuitous.org/scraps/combahee.html,  http://www.sfu.ca/iirp/documents/Combahee%201979.pdf Originally published in Capitalist Patriarchy and the Case for Socialist Feminism, Zillah Eisenstein (1978) and in Home Girls:A Black Feminist Anthology, edited by Barbara Smith, 1983.

Secondary Source Readings

Bettye Collier-Thomas and V.P. Franklin, Sisters in the Struggle: African American Women in the Civil Rights-Black Power Movement. (New York: New York University Press), 2001.  Selected articles.

Rhonda Y. Williams, “Black Women and Black Power,” OAH Magazine of History, July 2008, 22-26.  (A historiographical overview)

Rebecca Zorach, “Dig the Diversity in Unity: AfriCOBRA’s Black Family Afterall 28 (2011), 102-111. [Used With Permission of the Author, for Educational Purposes Only].

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The Organization of Black American Culture was founded by writer and editor Hoyt Fuller, Jr., sociologist Gerald McWorter (later Abdul Alkalimat), and writer Conrad Kent Rivers. In 1966, they formed a group called the Chicago Committee for the Arts, with the goal of using art and culture to shape Black consciousness. As Fuller wrote, “the Committee was convinced that, by releasing that natural, pent-up store of creativity within the community, by urging Black people toward an identification with and an acceptance of themselves and their images, their history, their humanity, art itself could achieve a fresh interpretation in the lives, the aspirations—in a word, the experiences of the community...it suggested that the seeds of liberation--political and economic and social, as well as aesthetic—would be planted in the Black psyche through this new approach to artistic expression. The interest then was primarily political; art for the sake of Black empowerment was the principle.” (Fuller, Foreword, 17).

Early in 1967, the Committee became the Organization of Black American Culture, or OBAC, pronounced oba-si (“oba” is a Yoruba word for “ruler”). Members began holding public meetings and performances, recruiting additional members, and organizing into groups: Writers’ Workshop, Visual Artists’ Workshop, and Community Workshop. Performing artists were covered by existing groups that worked closely with OBAC: Kuumba Theater Workshop, the AACM—Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians—and dance ensembles such as Darlene Blackburn’s dance troupe. Together, members of all three workshops conceived the Wall of Respect (see below), and the visual artists—painters and photographers—created it. The OBAC Writers group was the most active and longest-lived workshop of OBAC. Members published a journal, Nommo, jointly ran a storefront space on 35th Street, and met regularly into the 1990s; the group has been revived periodically up to the present day.

Primary Sources

“Editor’s Note” and Gerald A. McWorter, “OBAC Position Paper: Some Ideological Considerations,” in Nommo: A Literary Legacy of Black Chicago edited by Carole A. Parks (OBAhouse, 1987), pp 10-12.

Hoyt W. Fuller, “Foreword to Nommo 1971” [Brief History of OBAC], in Nommo, pp. 17-20

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On the side of a building at 43rd and Langley in the Bronzeville neighborhood, Black artists affiliated with OBAC painted the Wall of Respect in August 1967. This unique masterpiece was the project of the OBAC Visual Artists Workshop, a group spearheaded by Jeff Donaldson and Myrna Weaver, representing painters, photographers, and designers. William Walker, an artist with experience painting murals and connections in the neighborhood around the site, brought the idea of painting a mural at this specific location to the group, which was already in search of a way of visibly representing Black heroes in the community. The Wall was divided into seven sections, representing seven primary areas of accomplishment of African Americans: Rhythm and Blues, Religion, Literature, and Theater on the ground floor, Statesmen, Sports, and Jazz above, with Dance on the corner newsstand. Each section contained portraits of key individuals who met OBAC’s criteria in terms of accomplishment in their fields, political stance and moral stature. The Wall became a site for performances, political rallies, neighborhood gatherings, and police surveillance. It was also a source of conflict, as Walker (perhaps at the behest of community members) moved quickly to make unilateral changes following the Wall’s initial unveiling, without consulting the collective as a whole. Walker and Eugene Eda Wade made several changes over the Wall’s lifetime. In 1971 it fell victim to a fire, and the building was demolished shortly thereafter. Yet its impact was strongly felt. The Wall spearheaded the community mural movement that brought vibrant imagery to the streets of Chicago and other urban centers in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s.

“The Wall of Respect was a cultural production that included people who lived in the neighborhood, the artists who painted the mural, the poets who read their work at the Wall, the photographers whose art reproduced and preserved the all, and the many Black Arts participants who lived in other parts of Chicago’s “South Side” but gravitated toward this center…a brick wall of a building…a veritable cultural center without walls…” (Margo Natalie Crawford, 23-24)

Wall of Respect, photograph by B. Solari, 1971

Jeff Donaldson, one of the artists of OBAC and founding member of AfriCOBRA described the origins of the Wall and its impact:

“In 1967, Chicago’s Wall of Respect, a 20 x 60 foot mural executed on the exterior of a southside tavern at 43rd and Langley, set in motion an outdoor mural movement by African American artists throughout America’s inner cities that grew to more than 1,000 murals in urban centers between 1967 and 1975 and eventually inspired Latino, Native, and ultimately, Euro-American artist as well.

“Before the Wall was finished…it already had become a shrine to black creativity…a rallying point for revolutionary rhetoric and calls to action, and a national symbol of the heroic black struggle for liberation.

“The Wall of Respect revived mural painting in America and more. Mural painting had last been popular in this country during the 1930s when over 2,000 words were commissioned by the U.S. government for interior spaces in schools and other public buildings. The outdoor mural movement of the 1960s introduced a distinctly new genre and reintroduced the moral dimension absent from European art for more than a century. It ushered in heightened respectability for the politically engaged African American artists and paved the way for the rise of present-day Africentric styles in art. This movement brought art to the people, and, at the same time, permitted people to participate in the process, offering ‘a visual glorification of the human spirit, and a vital call to action.’ The movement can be credited with uplifting the spirits of the people by recognizing their heritage, honoring their chosen heroes and focusing their righteous anger on real issues and the choices available to them. It is also important that the murals served to enhance the quality of life in African American communities by beautifying the surroundings and providing positive and powerful visual imagery of black people writ large.” (Donaldson, Rise & Fall, pages 21, 23,25)

Gwendolyn Brooks, "The Wall"

August 27, 1967 
[the day of its dedication]

A drumdrumdrum. 
Humbly we come. 
South of success and east of gloss and glass are 
grave hoops of wood or gold, pendant 
from black ears, brown ears, reddish-brown 
and ivory ears;

black boy-men. 
boy-men on roofs fist out "Black Power!" Val, 
a little black stampede 
in African images of brass and flowerswirl, 
fist out "Black Power!"--tightens pretty eyes, 
leans back on mothercountry and is tract, 
is treatise through her perfect and tight teeth.  Women in wool hair chant their poetry. 
Phil Cohran gives us messages and music 
made of developed bone and polished and honed 
It is the Hour of tribe and of vibration, 
the day-long Hour. It is the Hour 
of ringing, rouse, of ferment-festival.

On Forty-third and Langley 
black furnaces resent ancient 
of ploy and scruple and practical gelatin. 
They keep the fever in, 
fondle the fever.

worship the Wall. I mount the rattling wood. Walter 
says, "She is good." Says, "She 
our Sister is." In front of me 
hundreds of faces, red-brown, brown, black, ivory, 
yield me hot trust, their yea and their 
that they are ready to rile the high-flung ground. 
Behind me. Paint. 
No child has defiled 
the Heroes of this Wall this serious Appointment 
this still Wing 
this Scald this Flute this heavy Light this Hinge.

An emphasis is paroled. 
The old decapitations are revised, 
the dispossessions beakless.

And we sing.

Reprinted in Alan W.Barnett, Community Murals: The People's Art. Philadelphia: The Art Alliance Press, 1984, 52-53.

Don L. Lee, "The Wall"

sending their negro
toms into the ghetto
at all hours of the day
(disguised as black people)
to dig
the wall, (the weapon)
the mighty black wall (we chase them out—kill if

whi-te people can’t stand
the wall,
killed their eyes, (they cry)
black beauty hurts them—
they thought black beauty was a horse—
stupid muthafuckas, they run from
the might black wall
brothers & sisters screaming
“picasso ain’t got shit on us.
send him back to art school.”
we got black artists
we paint black art
the might black wall
negroes from south shore &
hyde park coming to check out
a black creation
black art, of the people
for the people,
art for people’s sake
black people
the mighty black wall

black photographers
who take black pictures
can you dig,
le roi
muslim sisters,
black on gray it’s hip
they deal, black photographers deal blackness for
the mighty black wall
black artists paint
de bois /  garvey / gwen brooks
stokely / rap / james brown
trane / miracles / ray charles
baldwin / killens / Muhammad ali
alcindor / blackness / revolution
our heroes, we pick them, for the wall
the mighty black wall / about our business, blackness
can you dig?
if you can’t you ain’t black / some other color
negro maybe??

the wall the might black wall,
“ain’t the muthafucka layen there?”

Reprinted in Alan W. Barnett, Community Murals: The People’s Art. Philadelphia:  The Art Alliance Press, 1984, 52.

Key Websites:


“The Wall of Respect” from TVLAND via VIMEO (a one-minute documentary featuring key artists of the WOR) https://vimeo.com/9298332 and https://vimeo.com/25038341

Primary Sources:

In addition to being a member of OBAC who contributed photographs to the mural itself, Robert Sengstacke exhaustively documented the Wall and the people around it in photographs.

“Wall of Respect,” Ebony Magazine, December 1967. 48-52 available through books.google.com

Photographs of the Wall on the Public Art Mural Workshop via UC Database/search OBAC http://luna.lib.uchicago.edu/luna/servlet/view/all?sort=creator%2Cculture%2Cdate%2Cstyle_or_period&os=0

Jeff Donaldson, “The Rise, Fall, and Legacy of the Wall of Respect Movement” International Review of African American Art 15, no. 1 (1998): 22-26.

Secondary Source Readings

Margo Natalie Crawford, “Black Light on the Wall of Respect: The Chicago Black Arts Movement,” New Thoughts on the Black Arts Movement, ed. Crawford and Lisa Gail Collins, pp. 23-42. 2006.

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The Wall of Respect spawned a movement with far-reaching consequences. In Chicago, the Chicago Mural Group (later renamed the Chicago Public Art Group) organized itself as an interracial collective in 1971. Early members included William Walker, Eugene Eda Wade, John Pitman Weber, Mitchell Caton, Ray Patlán, Caryl Yasko, Astrid Fuller, and Mark Rogovin. Members painted murals on the South, West, and North sides of the city, typically with an intergenerational group of community members. Murals addressed many themes related to social justice: racial conflict and integration, gentrification, and women’s rights, among others.

Primary Sources -- Photographs of the Murals

Public Art Workshop Mural Archive
Mark Rogovin founded the Public Art Workshop in 1972 in the Austin neighborhood on the West Side. The organization offered art classes and produced community murals; it also housed an exhaustive international archive of mural imagery in slides, some of which have been digitized by the University of Chicago Visual Resources Center.

Georg Stahl Mural Collection
Architect Georg Stahl documented the height of the mural movement in Chicago in maps, charts, and numerous slides.

Chicago Public Art Group

Secondary sources with photographs of the murals (among others)

Alan Barnett, Community Murals: The Peoples Art Philadelphia: Art Alliance Press, 1984.

Eva Cockcroft, John Pitman Weber, and James Cockcroft, Toward a People’s Art: The Contemporary Mural Movement (University of New Mexico Press, 1998), especially “Beginnings,” pp. 1-12; “Mural Painting as a Human Process: The Community,” pp. 71-105.

Robin Dunitz and James Prigoff, Walls of Heritage, Walls of Pride: African American Murals. Pomegranate Communications, 2000.

Mary Lackritz Gray, A Guide to Chicago Murals. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001.

Olivia Gude and Jeff Huebner, Urban Art Chicago. Ivan R. Dee, 2000.

Victor Sorell, A Guide to Chicago Murals. Chicago: Chicago Council on Fine Arts, 1978.

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This tour of mid-South Side murals, all fairly close together (easily accessible in an afternoon’s bus tour, or by bike, or long walk) provides a good representation of murals by Black artists from the 1970s to the 2000s.

“Have A Dream” & “The Earth is Not Our Home”

S. King Dr. & E 40th St.

Artist Dr. C. Siddha Webber. 1995.

have a dream mural 1have a dream mural 2have a dream mural 3have a dream mural 4

earth is not our home mural

“Black Women Emerging”

S. Cottage Grove Ave. & E 41st St.

Artist Justine Presha' DeVan. 1977

black women emerging mural 1black women emerging mural 2black women emerging mural 3

“A Time To Unite”

41st St. & Drexel Ave.

Artists Calvin Jones, Justine Devan, and Mitchell Caton. 1976.

time to unite mural 1time to unite mural 2time to unite mural 3

“The Great Migration Bronzeville”

700 E. Oakwood Blvd., Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies

Artist Arlene Turner-Crawford

(image coming)


“Another Time’s Voice Remembers My Passion's Humanity”

3947 S. Michigan, Elliott Donnelley Youth Center.

Artists Calvin Jones & Mitchell Caton. 1979.

another times voice mural 1another times voice mural 2

“History of the Packinghouse Worker”

4859 S. Wabash

Artist William Walker. 1974packinghouse worker mural

“The Wall of Daydreaming”

S Calumet Ave & E 47th St

Artists Mitchell Caton, William Walker, C. Siddha Webber. 1975.wall of daydreaming mural

“Up from 47th Street”

The Sutherland, 4659 S. Drexel Blvd.

Artists Kiela Songhay Smith, Arlene Turner Crawford, Esete Ray and Chester

(image coming)

“Feed Your Child the Truth”

Ma Houston Playlot, 50th and Cottage Grove.

Artists Bernard Williams with Stephanie George & Julia Sowles. 1994.

(image coming)



vabam mural map

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vabam teachers and art 1

The OBAC Visual Artists Workshop did not survive the fallout from the changes made to the Wall of Respect, but several of its members reorganized soon after with other artists to form COBRA (Coalition of Black Revolutionary Artists) which was soon renamed AfriCOBRA (African Commune of Bad Revolutionary Artists). The original members were Jeff Donaldson, Jae Jarrell, Wadsworth Jarrell, Barbara Jones (later Jones-Hogu), and Gerald Williams. Together, they developed a set of aesthetic and political principles for their work that reflected a positive Black consciousness. The group created work based on shared themes (such as “The Black Family”) and together produced poster-prints—affordable artworks with strong political messages. Other members joined in Chicago, and the group began exhibiting nationally in 1970 with a show at the Studio Museum in Harlem. After several members moved to the East Coast (with Jeff Donaldson in particular moving to Washington, D.C. to head the Art Department at Howard University), some of the Chicago members left the group, new members joined in D.C., and the group continues to this day.

“The African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists “Manifesto” (selections)

“We have carefully examined our roots and search our branches for those visual qualities that are most expressive of our people/art… We strive for images inspired by African people/experience and images which African people can relate directly…

  1. Definition—images that deal with the past
  2. Identification—images that relate to the present.
  3. Direction—images that look into the future.

This is “poster art”—images which deal with concepts that offer positive and feasible solutions to our individual, local, national, international, and cosmic problems. The images are designed with the idea of mass production…

Among our roots and branches we have selected these qualities to emphasize in our image-making—

(A) The expressive awesomeness that one experiences in African Art and life in the U.S.A…like the demon tha is the blues, Alcindor’s dunk and Sayre’s cut, the Hip walk and theTogether talk.

(C) Sumettry that is free, repetition with change, based on African music and African movement. The rhythm that is easy syncopation and very very human. Uncontracted. The rhythm the rhythm the rhythm rhythm rhythm

Images that mark the spot where the real and the overreal, the plus and the minus, the abstract and the concrete…Mimesis.

vabam teachers and art 4


(G) Organic looking, feeling forms. Machines are made for each other like we are made for each other. We want the work to look like the creator made it through us.

(b) This is a big one….Shine—a major quality, a major quality. We want the things to shine, to have the rich lustre of a just-washed ‘Fro,of spit-shined shoes, of de-ashened elbows and knees and noses…Dixie Peach, Bar-Bq, Fried fish, cars, ad shineum!

(z) Color color Color color that shines, color this is free of rules and regulations. Color that shines….Color that defines, identifies, and directs. Superreal color for Superreal images. The superreality that is our every day all day thang….Coolade color for coolade images…Words can do no more with the laws—the form and content of our images.

"We are a family. Check the unity….Check out the image. The words are an attempt to posit where we are coming from and to introduce how we are going where we are going. Check out the image. Words do not define/describe relevant images. Relevant images define/describe themselves. Dig on the image. We are a family of image-makers and each member of the family is free to relate to and to express our laws in her/his individual way. Dig the diversity in unity. We can be ourselves and be together, too. Check.”

(Donaldson, 10 in Search,1970)

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For many Chicago artists, information can be found on the Africobra in Chicago website, http://africobra.uchicago.edu.

Billy (Fundi) Abernathy (Photography, OBAC, Wall of Respect)

* Ralph Arnold (Mixed Media/Collages)

* Sylvester Britton (Printing, Painter)

* Mitchell Caton (Murals)

  • “A Time to Unite”, “Another Time’s Voice Remembers My Passion’s Humanity”, “The Wall of Daydreaming”, Rip-Off Alley /Universal Alley
  • Public Art Workshop Mural Archive search for his work.

Bob Crawford (Photography)

* Justine Presha' DeVan (Murals)

* Jeff Donaldson (Murals, Paintings, AfriCOBRA, OBAC, Wall of Respect)

Jae Jarrell (spouse of Wadsworth) (Clothing Design, AfriCOBRA)

* Wadsworth Jarrell (spouse of Jae) (Painting, Prints, Sculpture, OBAC, Wall of Respect, AfricCOBRA)

* Calvin Jones (Commercial Illustration, Murals)

Napoleon Jones-Henderson (Experimental / Multi-Media, Glass, Mosaics, Murals, Painting, Sculpture, Video, Steel)

Robert A. Sengstacke (Photography and Filmmaking, OBAC, Wall of Respect, Chicago Defender)

* William Walker (Murals, OBAC, Wall of Respect)

Dr. C. Siddah Webber (Murals)

John White (Photography)

Photographer with BAM, SSCAC, Professor at Columbia College, and photographer for the Sun-Times until all staff photographers were fired in 2013.  He was hired by the EPA in the '70s to document Black Chicago. See articles about him, and his photographs (only one is linked).

Other BAM Artists

Sylvia Abernathy (Graphic Designer), Sherman Beck (Commercial Art, Printing), Bob Black (Photography), Danny Hetherington (Painter, Co-Director, Art & Soul), Jackie Hetherington (Painter, Co-Director, Art & Soul), * Richard Hunt (Sculptor), Carolyn Lawrence (Painter), * John H. Sibley (Illustrator and Writer), * Herbert Temple (Commercial Artist and Designer), Eugene Wade (Murals), * Doug Williams (Murals), * Jose Williams (Painter, Printmaker, Saxophonist)

Founders -- See Chicago Black Renaissance

* Margaret T. Goss Burroughs (Sculpture, Painting, Prints, Museum Founder)

* Elizabeth Catlett (Sculpture and Prints)

* Charles White (Painting, Prints)

Next Generation

Kiela Songhay Smith (Murals)

  • “Up from 47th Street”
* Arlene Turner-Crawford (Painter, Murals)
* Bernard Williams (Murals)


Images of many of the artists' works are available in the South Side Community Art Center Permanent Collection (http://luna.lib.uchicago.edu/luna/servlet/uofclibmgr2~4~4)

* Chicago Artist File at the Chicago Public Library


Primary Sources

vabam teachers and art 2

Barbara Jones-Hogu, “Inaugurating AfriCOBRA: History, Philosophy, Aesthetics,” Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art, Number 30, Spring 2012, 90-97.

Jeff Donaldson, “AFRICOBRA 1: 10 in search of a Nation,” Black World October 1970, 80-89. (Available through books.google.com or in print at the CPL Woodson Regional Library)

Eugene (Useni) Perkins and Roy Lewis, West Wall Chicago: Free Black Press (copyright Roy Lewis and Eugene Perkins), 1969.

Amiri Baraka and Billy (Fundi) Abernathy, In Our Terribleness, Indianapolis: Bobbs Merrill, 1970). PS3552.A583I5 closed stacks at HWLC, Woodson, Legler.

Secondary Source Readings

Anna M. Tyler, “Planting and Maintaining A ‘Perennial Garden’: Chicago’s South Side Community Art Center,” International Review of African American Arts, 11:4 (1994), 31-37.

Rebecca Zorach, “Dig the Diversity in Unity: AfriCOBRA’s Black Family Afterall 28 (2011), 102-111.

Claudine Ise, AfriCOBRA When it was Prepared to Strike,” May 23, 2013, Chicago Reader. http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/africobra-south-side-arts-movement/Content?oid=9756149

Peter Margasak “Why the AACM and AfriCOBRA Still Matter”, Chicago Reader, July 7, 2015. http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/aacm-mca-exhibit-freedom-principle-beckwith-africobra/Content?oid=18223562

Websites, Online Exhibitions, Digital Collections

AfriCOBRA in the South Side Community Art Center Permanent Collection (http://luna.lib.uchicago.edu/luna/servlet/uofclibmgr2~4~4)

AfriCOBRA in Chicago (http://africobra.uchicago.edu). Some bios: http://africobra.uchicago.edu/artists/

Featured Artwork at the SSCAC. Organized as “Legacy of the Founders,” “Black Women Speak,” “A Decade of Images,” and “The Beginnings of AfriCOBRA” http://africobra.uchicago.edu/artworks/

AfriCOBRA documentary produced by TVLand: https://vimeo.com/25038341

From the documentary, “DuSable to Obama” (citation), segment on AfriCobra http://www.wttw.com/main.taf?p=76,4,5,9

Interviews with key AfriCOBRA artists (and others) are available at the website “Never the Same: Conversations About Art Transforming Politics & Community in Chicago & Beyond.”

Oral Histories with AfriCOBRA founders archived by the Archives of American Art (Smithsonian) conducted by the staff of TVLand in 2010 for its documentary.  How to order a dvd or mp3: http://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/interviews-africobra-founders-15925

"Freedom Principle" exhibition at Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, Summer 2015. http://www2.mcachicago.org/exhibition/the-freedom-principle-experiments-in-art-and-music-1965-to-now/


Art & Soul

The Conservative Vice Lords, Inc. (CVL, Inc.) a street gang turned community organization, opened an art gallery in collaboration with the Museum of Contemporary Art in 1968 in North Lawndale.

Rebecca Zorach. “Art and Soul: An Experimental Friendship between the Street and a Museum." ArtJournal: August 9, 2011: 66-87. [Used with permission from author, for educational purposes only].

Lord Thing, a 1970 film by DeWitt Beall, chronicles the ride of the CVL, Inc. Youtube Chicago Film Archives, https://youtu.be/koFIQkocXbU

Conservative Vice Lords/Hull-House Museum’s online exhibit- “A Report to the Public” http://cvlwebsite.wix.com/report

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A rich array of primary source materials is available in Chicago collections, many of them untapped by researchers.

Primary Sources Available from Local Archival Collections

Collections particularly strong in Black Arts Movement materials at the Vivian Harsh Collection at the Woodson Regional Library, with a few selected folders (but there are many other folders within these collections; be sure to look at the finding aids):

  • William McBride Papers, boxes 6 and 7
  • Frances Minor Papers, boxes 7 and 9
  • Leonard Wash Papers, boxes 1, 2, 4, 7, 9, 10, 12, Oversized 84
  • Susan Cayton Woodson Papers, boxes 7 and 8

The South Side Community Art Center maintains an archive of documents in addition to the scanned art available through the UC database.

Archival Sources and Finding Aids

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This section contains resources on teaching how to analyze visual art works, thinking about their media (painting, printmaking, drawing, photography, etc.), and such elements as color, line, composition, value and contrast. In teaching photography in particular—a key medium for studying the Black Arts Movement—it is also helpful to think about how photography works as an art form (not only a simple presentation of the truth) and how photographs have circulated and been used historically. The Martin Berger reading cited below, for example, critiques the near-universal choice on the part of Northern news media to present African Americans in the Civil Rights Movement as victims while presenting white activists as heroes.

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J. Paul Getty Museum: "Understanding Formal Analysis: Elements of Art." (2011).

Library of Congress: Primary Source Analysis Tool (Online)

National Archives and Records Administration:

Terra Foundation for American Art  ClassroomTools for Analyzing Art


Recommended readings

Joshua Taylor, “An Analysis of the Work of Art” and “Color and Perspective,” in Learning To Look: A Handbook for the Visual Arts (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981), 51-76.

Jennifer Roberts, “The Power of Patience,” Harvard Magazine, November 2013, 40-43.

Thomas H. Wheeler, “‘A Picture of Reality’: Qualified Objectivity in Visual Journalism,” in Phototruth or Photofiction? Ethics and Media Imagery in the Digital Age (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2002), 3-13.

Martin Berger, “The Formulas of Documentary Photography,” in Seeing Through Race: A Reinterpretation of Civil Rights Photography (University of California Press, 2011), pp. 9-57.

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LESSONS PLANS on the Black Arts Movement from VABAM Teachers

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