Charles White


  • Vida Americana: Mexican Muralists Remake American Art, 1925–1945

    Charles White, Progress of the American Negro: Five Great American Negroes, 1939–40

    Charles White, Progress of the American Negro: Five Great American Negroes, 1939–40


    Narrator: This mural by Charles White focuses on major figures of African American history, including Sojourner Truth, Booker T. Washington, Frederick Douglass, Marian Anderson, and George Washington Carver. He painted it as a fundraiser for a community center in Chicago’s predominantly Black South Side. The work reflects White’s interest in the Mexican muralists’ radical politics and their commitment to creating art “for and about the people.” White later traveled to Mexico, and upon his return to the United States became tremendously influential as a teacher. One of his students was the Chicana muralist Judithe Hernández. While they were working together one day, he told her about his experience of living in Mexico. 

    Judithe Hernández: He said, “You know the reason I have such affection for Mexico and Mexican people is”—this was the 1940s—“that was the first experience I ever had with people who were not African American where I was treated with respect and even admiration, because I was an artist. It didn’t matter that I was a Black man. They saw my work. They called me maestro,” which is what I used to call him. Made him smile, because it’s a sign of respect. Someone who does art, someone who is a creative person, in Mexican culture, is someone who you esteem, and it’s something he had never felt in the United States. 

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