About The Murals
The Mutiny on the Amistad - In 1839 on the West Coast of Africa, 53 Africans were kidnapped from Mende country (modern Sierra Leone) and sold into Spanish slave trade. The men, women and children were shackled and loaded aboard a ship where they endured physical abuse, sickness, and death during a horrific journey to Havana, Cuba. Led by Senbeh Pieh (Cinque’), the Africans revolted, took control of the ship, which was eventually seized by an American naval vessel. The Africans were jailed and charged with piracy and murder.
The Trial of the Amistad Captives heralds their judicial fight for freedom. The case took on historic proportion when former President John Quincy Adams argued on behalf of the captives before the U.S. Supreme Court. This was the first civil rights case in America. In 1841, the 35 surviving Africans won their freedom when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in their favor. Out of this case and the Amistad Committee, the Mende Association was formed which later became the American Missionary Association (A.M.A.) (Talladega College is one of the distinguished colleges emerging from the efforts of the A.M.A.)
The Repatriation of the Freed Captives - The third panel represents the landing of the repatriated slaves on the shores of Africa. Here, the principal figures are Cinque’, the missionaries, James Steele with his sea chest, and the little Black girl, Marque, who in later years had a son who returned to graduate from Yale University with a Ph.D. degree. In the background lies their ship at harbor, and a boatload of their party just landing on the beach.
The Founding Panels
The Underground Railroad - The story of the Underground Railroad is one of individual sacrifice and heroism in the efforts of enslaved people to reach freedom from bondage. It was perhaps the most dramatic protest against slavery in the United States. Its operation began during the colonial period and later became part of organized abolitionist activity in the late 19th century, and reached its peak in the period of 1830-1865. While most runaways began their journey unaided and many completed their self-emancipation without assistance, each decade in which slavery was legal in the United States saw an increase in the public perception of an underground network and in the number of persons willing to give aid to the runaway.
Opening Day at Talladega College- Freedmen were poor, they are therefore, depicted bartering with their chickens, pigs, barrels of fruits and vegetables, musical instrument, a plow and sugar cane to pay tuition on the first day of registration. They are advised by the counselor and curriculum coordinator relative to classes and what to expect in school. In the background is Swayne Hall, the oldest building on campus.
The Building of Savery Library - Funds raised by Talladega College, individual contributions, grants, sale of college land and insurance on a barn destroyed by fire allowed for the construction of Savery Library. Construction began in September 1937, with Joseph Fletcher, a 1901 alumnus, superintendent of buildings and grounds, in charge. Fletcher engaged an interracial work crew with Talladega students furnishing much of the labor. Fletcher viewed the library as his masterpiece.
ABOUT HALE WOODRUFF: ARTIST AND EDUCATOR
Hale Aspacio Woodruff (1900-1980) was one of the leading African American artists and arts educators of his generation, and the Talladega Murals are among his most important works.
Born in Cairo, Illinois, and raised in Nashville, Tennessee, Woodruff enrolled after high school at the John Herron Art Institute (now the Herron School of Art & Design) in Indianapolis. In 1927 he left for France to study the newly-emerging style of cubism, which he adapted for some of his earlier paintings. Woodruff returned to America in 1931 and joined the faculty of Atlanta University (later Clark Atlanta University) as its first art instructor. The development of the university's historic collection of African American art was due in large part to Woodruff's efforts. In 1936, Woodruff traveled to Mexico to apprentice with the famous muralist Diego Rivera. This time with Rivera inspired Woodruff to embrace a storytelling aesthetic in his art, which is vividly on display in the Talladega murals. In 1943, Woodruff moved to New York and stayed there for the remainder of his professional career. In 1946 he accepted a position at New York University and taught art for more than twenty years until his retirement in 1968. Woodruff’s artistic work has been the subject of major exhibitions at the Studio Museum in Harlem (1979) and the High Museum in Atlanta (2004).
In addition to his own artistic creativity, Woodruff also served as a teacher and mentor for an entire generation of African American artists throughout the mid-20th century. In 1942, he launched the Atlanta University Art Annuals, a series of national art exhibitions for African American artists—including Jacob Lawrence—who could not show their work at white-only museums and galleries. In 1963, he and African American artist and writer Romare Bearden established Spiral, an artists’ collective that sponsored discussions about the connections between African American art and the ongoing struggle for civil rights. Although it lasted only three years, Spiral laid the groundwork for the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and 1970s.
In 1967, New York University honored Woodruff with a Great Teacher Award and with a retrospective of his paintings and drawings. Howard Conant, the then Chairman of the Department of Art Education, Head of the Division of Creative Arts and Chairman of the Art Collection Committee at NYU states in his Foreword to the exhibition catalogue, “... This exhibition is, simultaneously, an event of great personal importance for the literally countless numbers of students, teachers, artists, critics, and other persons throughout the world who, like the writer, have been directly, deeply, and beneficially affected by Woodruff’s truly great teaching, his sensitive and penetrating counseling, and his uninterrupted creation of compelling works of artistic magnitude.”
THE RESTORATION AND TOUR
In 2011, at the request of President Billy C. Hawkins and the Talladega College Board of Trustees, art conservators and handlers from the High Museum in Atlanta began the process of conserving the murals in order to preserve them for future generations. After a 12-month restoration process, the murals began a three-year tour with the title Rising Up: Hale Woodruff’s Murals at Talladega College. The murals will be displayed at NYU’s 80WSE gallery between July 20 and October 13, 2013, which is the only time these unique works of art will be available for viewing in the New York metropolitan area.
TALLADEGA COLLEGE AND ITS BEGINNINGS
Talladega College is located in an historic district of the city of Talladega, Alabama. The history of Talladega College began in November, 1865, when two former slaves, William Savery and Thomas Tarrant, met in convention with a group of Freedmen in Mobile, Alabama. From that meeting, Savery and Tarrant, assisted by General Wager Swayne of the Freedmen’s Bureau, began in earnest to provide a school for the children of former slaves in the community. Their leadership resulted in the construction of a one-room schoolhouse made of lumber salvaged from an abandoned carpenter’s shop. The popularity of the school necessitated a move to larger quarters. Meanwhile, the nearby white Baptist Academy that had been built in 1852-1853 by slaves, including Savery and Tarrant, faced a mortgage default and, through the intervention of General Swayne, was purchased by the American Missionary Association along with 20 acres of land. Grateful parents renamed the building Swayne School, which opened in November 1867 with about 140 students. Thus, a building constructed with slave labor for white students, became the home of the state’s first college dedicated to serving the educational needs of blacks.
In 1869, Swayne School was issued a charter as Talladega College, and Swayne Hall remains as the symbol and spirit of the College.
Rising Up: Hale Woodruff’s Murals at Talladega College is organized by the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia, in collaboration with Talladega College, Talladega, Alabama.
We wish to thank the generous support of the lead sponsors of the New York exhibition listed below: