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UPSIDE THE WALL:
AN ARTIST'S RETROSPECTIVE LOOK AT THE
ORIGINAL "WALL OF RESPECT"

Revolutionary art is both a product of struggle and a reflection of it.
– Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, 1961

THE MAKING OF THE WALL

It was a time of massive Black insurrection in America. Beginning in 1964, flames of Black discontent and insurrection swept across the country for four long, hot summers. The twelve uprisings in the urban North that occurred during 1964 and 1965 were followed by major property destruction and police/citizen confrontations in forty-six cities during 1966 and 1967. The first "Wall of Respect" was created in the cauldron of those revolutionary times, and, consonant with Fanon's doctrine, it was a product of that struggle and a reflection of it. 

Yet, it should be remembered that despite the American Civil War, which brought an official end to the 350-odd years enslavement of Africans in the United States, racial segregation and discrimination remained legalized throughout the South and institutionalized in both the South and the North well into the 1960's. Although Black people in America had always fought against these evils, the decade preceding the late 1960's was characterized by dramatically intensified non-violent protestations. These peaceful efforts were met with firehoses in Alabama, electric cattle prods in Louisiana, gunfire and whips in Mississippi, ax handles in Georgia, and mob violence in Illinois. Throughout the land, countless thousands of Blacks had been arrested, beaten, maimed, spat upon, and humiliated. Thus, the stage was set for the violent response of those long hot summers of righteous discontent.

In the midst of the revolutionary turbulence arising from a people's struggle to be free, Black American artists hoped to offer inspiration, articulation, and vision to their people's quest for liberation from racial segregation and discrimination. This sense of purpose gave birth to Chicago's "Wall of Respect" and a new movement which spawned over a thousand such murals in urban centers throughout America between 1967 and 1975. This movement encompassed Chicanos, Native Americans, Puerto Ricans, and, eventually, White Americans.

Chicago's "Wall" artists were members of the Visual Art Workshop of the Organization of Black American Culture (OBAC). Organized in May, 1967, OBAC was spearheaded by Gerald McWorter, sociologist and University of Chicago Ph.D. candidate; Hoyt W. Fuller, editor of Negro Digest (later renamed Black World), and Jeff Donaldson, visual artist and Northwestern University Ph.D. candidate in art history. Other active members of the OBAC organizing groups were Bennett J. Johnson, political activist; F. Duke McNeil, attorney; Ann F. Smith, Donald H. Smith, and George R. Ricks, university professors; Conrad Kent Rivers, poet; Joseph R. Simpson, scientist, and Val Gray Ward, dramatist. The stated aim of OBAC was to organize and to coordinate the activities of an dance, drama, literary, and music cadres in support of the overall struggle. When it became apparent that dance, drama, and music groups with similar goals already existed in Chicago, OBAC established liaison (and participated in joint ventures) with groups such as Phil Cohran's Afro-Arts Theatre, Abena Joan Brown and Harold Johnson's Ebony Talent Associate Val Gray Ward's Kuumba Theatre, the Darlene Blackburn Dancers, and an especially close relationship with the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians(AACM) 1. Meanwhile, the OBAC Writers Workshop, 2 organized by Fuller, and the OBAC Visual A Workshop, organized by Donaldson, quickly attracted talented activists/artists to their membership.

The OBAC Visual Art Workshop, which would later create the "Wall of Respect," included painters and printmakers Sylvia Abernathy, Jeff Donaldson, Elliot Hunter, Wadsworth Jarrell, Barbara Jones, and Carolyn Lawrence, Norman Parish, William Walker, and Myrna Weaver; photographers Billy Abernathy, Darrell Cowherd, Roy Lewis and Robert Sengstacke; and Edward Christmas, mixed
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