This transcription has been completed. Contact us with corrections.
Arts Page 10 Section 13 Chicago Tribune, Sunday, August 23, 1992 Art [[image]] The former "Wall of Respect," a symbol of black pride and a South Side tourist attraction that encouraged similar murals worldwide, drew heavy crowds on its opening day 25 years ago. 'Wall of Respect' How Chicago artists gave birth to the ethnic mural By Norman Parish III Ruth Pikes had never seen anything like it. She couldn't believe people from out of state would drive into her gang-infested South Side neighborhood just to see the piece of art. "It was a tourist attraction," recalls Pikes, who has lived on the 4300 block of Evans Street since 1961. "When I looked at it I would say, 'We do have people with talent.'" That was 25 years ago. Today, the two-story attraction is gone. It was torn down by the city after a fire gutted the building in 1971. But the former mural covering the old grocery and liquor store at 43rd Street and Langley Avenue is credited with giving birth to thousands of ethnic murals worldwide. In fact, a 6-foot high four-sided mural now sits near the old mural site to commemorate the "Wall of Respect." "'The Wall of Respect' was one of the most important artistic events of the 1960s," says Edmund Barry Gaither, director of the Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists in Boston. "American art wouldn't have regained a sense of social consciousness if it wasn't for the 'Wall of Respect,'" Gaither adds. "And the cultural life of countless black communities would have been poorer." Margaret Burroughs, founder of the DuSable Museum of African American History in Chicago, agrees. [[bottom margin]]Norman Parish, a Cleveland reporter, is the son of Norman Parish Jr., one of the "Wall of Respect" artists.[[/bottom margin]] "It was that piece of work that sparked the whole public art movement in America," Burroughs says. "Even corporations started painting murals." The concept of mural painting was not new when the "Wall of Respect" was done. In the 1920s and 1930s, the federal government sponsored murals by artists of all races. Mexican artists such as Diego Riviera and Jose Clemente Orozco also had completed political murals. But unlike earlier murals, the "Wall of Respect" was completed at the expense of the artists themselves, says artist Eugene "Edaw" Wade, a teacher at Kennedy-King College. "We were trying to beautify the community," Wade says. "The original concept was this was art that could be functional. This was the artists bringing the art to the community. The wall acted as a 24-hour gallery. There were no guards there to protect it." If the "Wall of Respect" still existed, it would celebrate its 25th birthday Monday, the date it was completed. Black pride was the message of the controversial mural. Like a lyric in an Aretha Franklin song, these artists "wanted a little respect" for their heroes, community and themselves. They were nine young black men and women, working artists and photographers, looking for a visual outlet for their works. And they said they didn't want a private foundation to tell them who to paint. "[The artists] told me that this was their way of letting out their frustrations," says Pikes, whose home is near the former mural site. On the mural, portraits ranged from activist Malcolm X to actress Cicely Tyson. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., however, was not included among the original 34 black figures. "King was viewed as too weak, while Malcolm was viewed with strength," says Norman Parish Jr., one of the artists. The mural immediately became more than a mere painting, attracting several activities from regular poetry readings to controversial political rallies, including one held by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Poets Gwendolyn Brooks and Haki Madhubuti, formerly Don L. Lee, composed special tributes to the wall. Dancers and singers also kept spirits high. "It was a special gathering place in the community," recalls Pikes' son, Lawrence Tate, 41. Some artists claim there also were unwelcome visitors in the neighborhood: the FBI and Chicago police. "They would send letters that harassed and threatened you," says artist Jeff R. Donaldson, who is now an art professor and Dean of the College of Fine Arts at Howard University in Washington, D.C. "I once received a postcard from a group called the Black Tribunal," Donaldson says. "It said, 'You have been found guilty by the Black Tribunal. The next time you climb the scaffold, you will be dusted.' I believe that could have been FBI influenced. I wasn't the