Thursday, April 29, 2010

Elreta Alexander and David Walker

These are the last two images - now it's time to do some color corrections and start on the countertop.

The Honorable Elreta Melton Alexander
Born in Smithfield, N.C., to a minister who forbade his children to ride segregated buses, Judge Elreta Alexander-Ralston acquired early the determination and the remarkable color blindness that distinguished her career. Though graduating from the North Carolina Agricultural & Technical College with a degree in music, she knew that she was interested in law. By 1945, she had her law degree from Columbia and was practicing as a criminal defense lawyer in her home state, thus obtaining the honors of being the first black woman to graduate from the Law School and the first black female lawyer in North Carolina's history.

But being first at anything wasn't her goal; she just wanted to be a good lawyer and judge-and that she was. In 1968, she was elected district court judge for Guilford County, a position she held until 1981. After leaving the bench, she formed Alexander-Ralston, Speckhard & Speckhard.

Judge Alexander-Ralston will be best remembered for her compassion and candor on the bench. She became known as ‘Judge A' and was a pioneer in first-offender programs and in developing community service long before it became popular. She also earned a reputation as the originator of something she called ‘judgment day,' in which first-time youthful offenders would be called back to her court several weeks after their trial. If the juvenile had stayed out of trouble, the charges against him would be dismissed. One day, a white woman whose daughter had run away from home appeared in her court. The mother approached the bench and whispered, "The worst thing is that the girl's running around with colored boys," to which Judge Alexander-Ralston responded, "Darling, have you looked at your judge?"

David Walker (1785 - 1830)
A black author of an incendiary antislavery pamphlet, David was born in Wilmington to a free mother and a slave father who died before his birth. Despite his free status inherited from his mother, he grew up stifled by life in a slave society and developed a strong hatred of the institution. He left the South, stating that "If I remain in this bloody land, I will not live long. . . . I cannot remain where I must hear slaves' chains continually and where I must encounter the insults of their hypocritical enslavers." He traveled extensively around the country and by 1827 had settled in Boston, where he established a profitable secondhand clothing business. Active in helping the poor and needy, including runaway slaves, he earned a reputation within Boston's black community for his generosity and benevolence. In 1828 he married a woman known only as Emily, most likely a fugitive slave herself.

In September 1829 Walker first published his famous seventy-six-page pamphlet entitled Walker's Appeal in Four Articles; Together with a Preamble, to the Coloured Citizens of the World, but in Particular and Very Expressly to Those of the United States of America. In this emotional but carefully reasoned invective, he urged slaves to rise up against their masters and free themselves, regardless of the great risk involved. "Had you rather not be killed," he asked, "than to be a slave to a tyrant, who takes the life of your mother, wife, and dear little babies?" He warned white Americans to repent, for their day of judgment was at hand. They should not be deceived by the "outwardly servile character of the Negro," he wrote, for there was "a primitive force in the black slave that, once aroused, will make him a magnificent fighter." He condemned the colonization movement as a solution, claiming that America belonged more to blacks than to whites because "we have enriched it with our blood and tears."

Two revised editions, each increasingly militant and inflammatory in tone, were published early in 1830.

The circulation of the Appeal in the South by the summer of 1830 caused great alarm, particularly in Georgia, Virginia, and North Carolina. It made its first appearance in Walker's home state in Wilmington, where copies were smuggled on ships from Boston or New York and were distributed by a slave thought to have been an agent of Walker's. Excitement among whites soon spread to Fayetteville, New Bern, Elizabeth City, and other towns in the state, particularly where news of the pamphlet was accompanied by rumors of slave insurrection plots scheduled to take place at Christmas. Many communities petitioned Governor John Owen for protection as their slaves became "almost uncontrollable."

The governor sent a copy of the Appeal to the legislature when it met in November 1830 and urged that it consider measures to avert the dangerous consequences that were predicted. Meeting in secret session, the legislature enacted the most repressive measures ever passed in North Carolina to control slaves and free blacks. Harsh penalties were to be levied on anyone for teaching slaves to read or write and for circulating seditious publications. Manumission laws were made more prohibitive, and the movements of both slaves and free blacks were severely restricted. Finally, a quarantine law called for any black entering the state by ship to be confined, and any contact between resident blacks and incoming ships was prohibited.

Walker died in Boston three months after the publication of his pamphlet's third edition. The cause of his death remains a mystery, though it was widely believed that he was poisoned, possibly as a result of large rewards offered by Southern slaveholders for his death. 

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Not quite the end...yet

I told you the portraits would be coming fast and furious. Here's the last of the original set. I say original because another name (Elreta Alexander) was added. I'm glad that they decided to add her because I left one name off the list! Originally, the position taken by the anonymous slave was supposed to be that of David Walker. When I decided to make the 'anonymous person' a couple, I forgot to add David Walker back in. Had the SOG not decided to add another name, I would have completely forgotten about Mr. Walker and had some explaining to do. Things happen for a reason, huh?

Golden Frinks, Charlotte Brown and Charles Hunter (select to enlarge)

(select to enlarge)
Tomorrow I will begin adding in Elreta Alexander and photographing a friend for David Walker. Seems like only yesterday that this diner had no patrons at all. The place is getting crowded these days. Food must be pretty good.

You can read the bio's of the recent three after the break:

Monday, April 19, 2010

Col. James Young, John Merrick and John Chavis

Anna Pauli Murray, Col. James Young, John Merrick, John Chavis (select to enlarge)

Colonel James H. Young (1860-1921)
Young was an African American politician in North Carolina. Young was born in 1860 near Henderson, North Carolina to a slave woman and a prominent white man. Educated at Shaw University, Young was hired to work in the office of Colonel J. J. Young, an internal revenue collector, in 1877, and became involved with the Republican Party. In 1883, Young was elected to the Raleigh board of aldermen, but the board, controlled by Democrats, had Young and three other black Republicans removed from office because they held federal government jobs.

President Benjamin Harrison nominated Young twice for the position of Collector of the Port of Wilmington but the U.S. Senate failed to confirm him.

As owner and editor of the Raleigh Gazette (then "the most popular black newspaper in the Piedmont region of North Carolina") from 1893 to 1898, Young helped organize the electoral fusion of the state's Republicans and Populists. He was elected to the North Carolina House of Representatives from Wake County on a Fusion ticket in 1894 and 1896. Historian Helen G. Edmonds called Young "the outstanding Negro in the state legislature during the Fusion period." He was vilified by the Democrats, who nevertheless acknowledged his intellect and political astuteness, which they attributed "to his white blood."

Young was an ally of Gov. Daniel L. Russell, who appointed him colonel of a black volunteer regiment organized for the Spanish-American War. The unit did not see action, but Young was believed to have been the first African American to hold the rank of colonel in the United States (Charles Young was the first black colonel in the regular United States Army).

Young later received a federal appointment from Pres. William McKinley as deputy revenue collector for Raleigh, which he held from 1899 through 1913. He was also active in the Baptist church.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Charles Waddell Chesnut

(select to enlarge)
Charles Waddell Chesnutt was an author, essayist and political activist, best known for his novels and short stories exploring complex issues of racial and social identity.

Chesnutt was born in Cleveland, Ohio, to Andrew Chesnutt and Ann Maria (Sampson) Chesnutt, both "free persons of color" from Fayetteville, North Carolina. His paternal grandfather was a white slaveholder and, based on his appearance, Chesnutt likely had other white ancestors. In fact, he himself claimed to be seven-eighths white, although he self-identified as African-American. Chesnutt could pass with relative ease for a white man, although he never chose to do so. Under the one drop rule in most of the South, Chesnutt was considered "legally" black.

After the Civil War, the family returned to Fayetteville when Charles was nine years old, where they ran a grocery store. It failed because of Andrew Chesnutt's poor business practices and the struggling economy of the South. By age 13 Charles was a pupil-teacher at the Howard School.

Chesnutt continued to study and teach, eventually becoming assistant principal of the normal school in Fayetteville, now known as Fayetteville State University. In 1878, he married Susan Perry and moved to New York City. He hoped to escape the prejudice and poverty of the South and wanted to pursue a literary career. After six months, the Chesnutts moved back to Cleveland, where he studied for and passed the bar exam in 1887. Chesnutt had learned stenography as a young man in North Carolina, and he established what became a lucrative legal stenography business in Cleveland.

Chesnutt began writing stories that were accepted by top-ranked national magazines including The Atlantic Monthly, which published his first short story, The Goophered Grapevine, in August 1887. His first book was a collection of short stories entitled The Conjure Woman, published in 1899. These stories featured black characters who spoke in dialect, as was popular in much southern literature at the time.

Chesnutt's stories were more complex than those of many of his contemporaries. He wrote about characters dealing with difficult issues of miscegenation, "passing", illegitimacy, racial identities and social place throughout his career. The issues were especially pressing in the social volatility of Reconstruction and late 19th century society, as whites in the South tried to press all people with any African ancestry into one lower caste. At the same time, there was often distance and competition between families who had long been free persons of color, especially if educated and property-owning, and newly freed slaves.

Chesnutt continued writing short stories, and also completed a biography of the abolitionist Frederick Douglass. He also wrote several novels and appeared on the lecture circuit. Although Chesnutt's stories met with critical acclaim, poor sales of his novels doomed his hopes of a self-supporting literary career. His last novel was published in 1905. In 1906, his play Mrs. Darcy’s Daughter was produced, but it was also a commercial failure. Between 1906 and his death in 1932, Chesnutt wrote and published little, except for a few short stories and essays.

Among the era's literary writers, Chesnutt was well-respected. In 1905, Chesnutt was invited to Mark Twain’s 70th birthday party in New York City.

Starting in 1901, Chesnutt again devoted himself to his stenography business and, increasingly, to social and political activism. He served on the General Committee of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Working with W. E. B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington, he became one of the early 20th century's most prominent activists and commentators. Chesnutt contributed some short stories and essays to the NAACP's official magazine, The Crisis, founded in 1910. He did not receive compensation for the publication of these pieces. He wrote a strong essay protesting the southern states' moves to disfranchise blacks at the turn of the century.

In 1917, Chesnutt protested and successfully shut down showings in Ohio of the controversial film Birth of a Nation, which the NAACP officially protested across the nation.

Chesnutt died on November 15, 1932 at the age of 74 and was interred in Cleveland's Lake View Cemetery.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Dr. Anna Pauline Murray

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The Reverend Dr. Anna Pauline (Pauli) Murray was an American civil rights advocate, feminist, lawyer, writer, poet, teacher, and ordained priest. 

Pauli Murray was born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1910, to William H. and Agnes Georgiana (Fitzgerald) Murray. When Pauli Murray was three years old, her mother died, and she went to live with her aunt and maternal grandparents, the Fitzgeralds, in Durham, North Carolina. Pauli graduated from Hunter College, and in 1938 was denied admission into the University of North Carolina law school because of her race. She later entered Howard University Law School and graduated as valedictorian in 1944. She sought admission to Harvard University for an advanced law degree but was denied admission because she was a woman. She then studied at the University of California, Berkeley, where she received her Masters of Law degree. 

A contemporary and friend of Eleanor Roosevelt, she was a professor of American studies at Brandeis University from 1968 to 1973 and also taught law in Ghana. She was the author of the 1950 book "States' Laws on Race and Color," which catalogued state statutes discriminating against African Americans, Native Americans, Asians and other groups. 

Murray was one of the founders of the Women's Rights Law Reporter, the first legal periodical to focus exclusively on women's rights. And was the first African-American woman to become an Episcopal priest. 

Pauli Murray contributed to the NAACP's litigation strategy in Brown v. Board of Education and in 1961 she was appointed to the President's Commission on the Status of Women. While serving on the commissions and studying at Yale Law School (where she was the first African-American to earn a J.S.D.) Murray authored a series of papers outlining a legal strategy for challenging sex discrimination by states. These arguments were first published in an article co-authored with Mary Eastwood after the passage of Title VII entitled "Jane Crow and the Law." 

She testified on discrimination against women before the 91st Congress of the United States. She was the first African-American woman Episcopal priest and a co-founder of NOW, the National Organization for Women. 

Pauli Murray died of cancer on July 1, 1985 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her autobiography Song in a Weary Throat: An American Pilgrimage was published posthumously in 1987. In 1990, the Pauli Murray Human Relations Award was established in her honor to commemorate her life work.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Robert F. Williams, the Revolutionary

Within the coming days there will be a slew of new faces to post. Today's is Robert F. Williams, as some called him - the 'Negro Che Guevara'. After reading his bio and watching the many videos of him on YouTube, I made it a point to put him in red - not because of his politics, but because of his personality. To say the man was colorful is an epic understatement.

Robert F. Williams (click to enlarge)

Robert F. Williams was a militant civil rights leader whose open advocacy of armed self-defense anticipated the movement for "black power" in the late 1960s and helped inspire groups like the Student National Coordinating Committee, the Revolutionary Action Movement, and the Black Panther Party.

Williams was born in Monroe, North Carolina in 1925, the grandson of former slaves. He migrated to Detroit during World War II where he worked in an auto factory, organized for the United Auto Workers (UAW), and fought in the race riot that rocked Detroit in the summer of 1943. After a stint in the Marines, Williams returned to Monroe in 1955.

Elected president of the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Williams set out to build a membership in his own image: working class, militant, and armed–a far cry from the moderate, middle-class make-up of the national organization. He soon made international headlines for his role in the so-called "Kissing Case," in which two black children were jailed for kissing a young white girl.  In 1957, after an attempt to desegregate the town's public swimming pool met with stiff resistance from local whites and the Ku Klux Klan, Williams began stockpiling guns in anticipation of an attack by the Klan. Vowing to "meet violence with violence," Williams was rebuked by the national office of the NAACP and suspended from his leadership post. In 1959 he began publishing his own newsletter, the Crusader.

In 1961 Williams and his supporters again tried to integrate the community pool. This time he wound up in an armed standoff with local police and a mob of white citizens. Later that year when the Freedom Rides came to Monroe, Williams organized self-defense groups to protect the riders. As white mobs stormed the black community in the wake of the rides, Williams and his wife left town, but only after allowing a white couple to take refuge in their home. Authorities indicted Williams for kidnapping the couple, forcing him to flee the country and take up residence in Cuba as a guest of Fidel Castro.

From exile in Cuba, Williams continued to circulate the Crusader throughout the South. With Castro's support, he also began broadcasting a weekly radio program, "Radio Free Dixie," that reached thousands of black listeners in the United States despite US government efforts to scramble the signal. In 1966 Williams moved to China where he became a friend and advisor to Mao Zedong. Over the next few years he traveled extensively throughout Asia and Africa, speaking out against racism, colonialism, and the war in Vietnam.

Williams returned to the United States in 1969 and settled in Michigan. Partly as a result of changes in his own political position and partly in order to avoid extradition to North Carolina, where kidnapping charges were still pending, he distanced himself from the Black Power movement and even began advising the State Department on its relations with China. In 1976 all charges against him were dropped. Williams lived the remainder of his life in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He died of Hodgkin's lymphoma in 1996.

Here's an interesting video on Mr. Williams:

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Project Runway

As a former scripted television writer and a member of the Writer's Guild I must admit that I loathe reality television (most require the use of eye bleach after watching). However, in a mind boggling reversal, my one guilty pleasure is Lifetime's Project Runway. I mention this because I feel as though I am a member of the cast and the venerable co-host and creative advisor/critic Tim Gunn has just entered the workroom and asked everyone to 'gather round'. As anyone who frequents the show know, this usually indicates that he has a bombshell pronouncement that will fold the already short time allowed on each project before telling them to 'make it work' on his way out the door. I am about to receive one such bombshell announcement from the SOG.

It seems that there is another person that needs to be added to the painting. Her name is Elreta Melton Alexander-Ralston. She was the first African-American woman to graduate from Columbia University School of Law as well as the first African-American lawyer and judge in the state of North Carolina. I would say that qualifies her for inclusion. The painting is definitely male dominated, so the inclusion of another woman is a welcomed sight. Now all I have to do is figure out where to place her. I'm doing this in advance of any official notification as the bulk of the historians have yet to weigh in, but I anticipate their approval. It shouldn't be that much of a problem. It's actually quite a challenge to tell you the truth. I have to readjust my thinking and layout in a few areas but I will make room for her in such a way that it looks as though she was not a last minute addendum. I couldn't stomach that. The only real problem with the judge is the lack of photographs of her. You would think that there would be an abundance of images with her in them, but I have found only two on the web and the State Archives in Raleigh has none! I sent them the best image of her I had for their records and Ann Simpson at the SOG will be looking in UNC's archives for any other images that I can use.

Elreta Melton Alexander-Ralston

The painting will be stronger with her incorporation. I'm going to stay up late tonight and work with the image I have and see if I can sketch out a body on which to place her head that works for different locations in the painting. Give me a couple weeks and I'll post her painting for your approval. "Make it work!"

Friday, April 9, 2010

Second set of eyes

Regardless of how prepared you think you are, there is always something you overlooked. Perfect example, this painting. After the awarding of the commission, I scouted the walls of the School of Government building as though there was gold hidden within and they said I could keep what I found. I finally settled on the ground level wall opposite the cafeteria and after meticulous measuring and a pile of photographs from every angle, I thought that I had every contingency accounted for. Hardly.

My last post included an image of a lynching scene and I wrote about the reasons why it will be included. After that post I received an email from one of the staff members of the SOG whom agreed with the reasoning, but questioned the potential discomfort that may be created by having that particular segment of the painting in direct view of the entrance into the cafeteria. After all, who wants to enjoy a meal with that scene staring back at you! I agreed wholeheartedly with his concern and asked that he measure the entrance in relation to the wall where the painting will be mounted. He did so and I calculated the distance and photoshopped what portion of the painting would be visible from the entrance. It so happens that the lynching scene will be located about 15 feet farther down the hall. Thank goodness. I was prepared to move the scene to a different segment if it turned out to be aligned within sight of diners.

This is one of those moments where some asshole of an artist would have stood on the pious grounds of 'artistic and compositional integrity' and opted to create controversy where none was needed or necessary to supposedly get one's point across. 15 years ago, I might have done that, but the kinder, gentler Quashie has grown and come to the sad realization that he doesn't know everything. :-( . I was actually surprised that I had never considered this while working on the layout and thanked the gentleman for pointing this out to me. As I stated in the email,
"The goal here is to commemorate and not offend or cause unwarranted controversy that would overshadow both mine and the SOG's efforts to make this a successful venture."

Once again, sir - thank you for the heads up.

The painting as will be seen from the interior of the cafeteria

A question also arose about the chef's attire worn by the Greensboro Four in the painting. The rationale behind this is in direct correlation to the location and the layout of the painting. My first concern when approaching this commission was setting. After receiving a list of names and events important to North Carolina history, the first question that popped into my head was, 'what setting is appropriate to congregate 30+ people from disparate era's that would make visual sense to the viewer?' Two events immediately peaked my interest - the Sommerset Plantation reunion and the sit-in at the Woolworth lunch counter. Since I had my eye on the long blank wall opposite the cafeteria, the food oriented connection between the lunch counter and cafeteria was obvious. This decision was strengthened by the fact that students often line up in the hallway and would have to walk the length of the painting before entering the cafeteria.

The physical structure of the wall (8' x 53') dictated the length of the painting which fell in line with the extended length of many lunch counters. Anyone who has eaten in a diner or at a lunch counter know it's the perfect location to find yourself sitting next to a stranger. Pure synchronicity. This easily connected the final dot - the Greensboro Four as chefs at the lunch counter.

I contend that the moment the four brave souls decided to sit at that counter and demand service, they were, by extension, demanding service for the greater African-American community. By refusing to leave they took proverbial ownership of the establishment, hence the chef's uniforms. The official title of the painting is 'Service,' which is what they demanded and in so doing 'served' a cause greater than themselves. Get it?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Break out the Golden Spike

For those unaware of the obscure reference, the Golden Spike was the last one driven on the Transcontinental Railroad at Promontory Summit in Utah that connected the nation by rail. I should hit that proverbial point in my painting by Friday (yee-haw!) with the bodies of Golden Frinks and Charlotte Brown. Next week I will fill in the faces and Phase 1 of this beast will be completed! I'll have to figure out a way to celebrate - maybe take the day off and sleep.

After that - it starts all over again. With all of the color filled in, I will have to go back and readjust shadows and highlights to increase contrast where necessary, then on to the counter top and the food which will take me into the month of May. By May 15th the background will make itself known. I've taken some shots and am in the process of using Photoshop to figure out just what images will be placed in the background panels. The painting is separated into 8 - 6' panels. Each panel is actually a window segment of my fictional diner and will give an exterior view of the world that existed during the lifetimes of the individuals.

Some of the scenes will no doubt cause some discomfort, but they are necessary to showcase the many trials and tribulations that motivated and shaped the lives of the participants. Visions of joyous remembrance must be tempered by and reflected upon through the prism of painful and sobering truth. These people were deemed extraordinary - even by today's standards - and the background is meant to illustrate to the viewer what they have had to endure on their march toward immortality. For many, that journey was a literal one, and as the artist I would do a great disservice to their collective memory and our perception of them were I to allow political correctness to diminish their accomplishments by refusing to place their contributions in context. Lest anyone forget, it was such attitudes in the past that made this present painting necessary.