Walls of Heritage/Walls of Pride: 

African American Murals



San Francisco, CA: Pomegranate Communications, Inc., 2000, 272p.


Authored by: James Prigoff and Robin J. Dunitz

Reviewed by: Sarah Fauntroy, Reference Librarian, Founders Library


James Prigoff and Robin J. Dunitz have teamed up to produce this account of the evolution of African American murals and the painters responsible for this type of art.

Walls of Heritage/Walls of Pride; African American Murals covers the history of African American mural painting from the middle of the nineteenth century until the present. Floyd Coleman, Ph.D, writes about the early history of African American mural painting in his chapter "Keeping Hope Alive: The Story of African American Murals."

In 1850, Robert Scott Duncanson was hired to paint eight wall panels in the mansion of Nicholas Longworth. Longworth could have chosen any painter he wanted, but he chose Duncanson, not only because of his growing reputation as "the finest landscape painter in the West, " but also as a way of drawing attention to, and support for, the views of the abolitionist movement during the pre-Civil War period. These oil on plaster panels can still be seen in the Taft Museum in Cincinnati, Ohio (formerly known as the Longworth Belmont mansion). Duncanson was the first African American to be commissioned as a muralist.

Coleman continues with the early development of the muralists and gives us an overview of the social history that existed at that time in the U.S. Organizations and societies were being formed to help secure freedom and respect for the African American, whether he was free or in slavery; artists were one of the tools used for that purpose. William Edouard Scott, who first studied in Chicago and then in Paris, became a friend of Henry Ossawa Tanner. Aaron Douglas became well-known for a mural he did for the New York Public Library, entitled "Aspects of Negro Life."

Coleman reports that several Mexican muralist painters influenced African American painters. Diego Rivera was most prominent as a leader of the Mexican muralist movement. Hale Woodruff received a grant to study with Rivera in 1936. Charles Alston, Charles White, Elizabeth Catlett, Samella Sanders Lewis and John Biggers were all part of the muralist movement during that time period.

Michael D. Harris, Ph.D, in "Urban Totems: The Communal Spirit of Black Murals," explained the importance of community participation in the outdoor mural projects starting with the "Mural of Respect" in Chicago in 1967, in which the heroes portrayed on the wall were chosen by the community.


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November 2001