Monday, August 28, 2017

Wall of Respect less remembered but more significant

Photo courtesy of Northwestern University Press


     Gwendolyn Brooks read a poem at two dedications of public Chicago artworks in August of 1967.
     The first everyone knows about. Big, front page news, then and now: the unveiling of the Picasso sculpture at Daley Plaza—you couldn't miss its anniversary earlier this month.
     That dedication 50 years ago was attended by Mayor Richard J. Daley and tens of thousands of onlookers. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra performed.
     The poem Brooks read at the dedication radiated unease.
     "Man visits art, but squirms," she read.
     The second dedication, Aug. 27, 1967, is far less known, then and now. Daley stayed home, and its anniversary passed without hoopla Sunday. 
     That dedication was of a mural known as the "Wall of Respect," while less famous, has more to say to our present political moment, with Confederate monuments to white supremacy being debated and a president mouthing racist codes.
     The Wall was a series of portraits of black heroes, painted on an abandoned building at 43rd and Langley.
     Brooks was more comfortable at that dedication. She knew exactly where she was.
     "South of success and east of gloss and glass," she read.
     The wall depicted Muhammed Ali, arms raised in triumph, Malcolm X, Marcus Garvey, Bill Russell, Billie Holiday, and others—though not, significantly, Martin Luther King, who had been deftly played by Daley earlier that summer when he tried to bring his open occupancy movement to Chicago.

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Photo courtesy of Northwestern University Press



7 comments:

  1. It would have been nice to have the photos in the paper. Too much like graffiti for the bosses?

    "South of success and east of gloss and glass" made my day, nonetheless.

    john

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    1. I wouldn't read too much into it. Dan Mihalopoulis' column was more pressing, and thus went on Page Two, so mine went in a space with no room for art. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

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    2. Gotcha. About halfway through the book about Bill Mauldin that you recommended and I guess some of the attitude rubbed off on me.

      john

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  2. "They had it better then" is debatable. Sure, Jim Crow laws were clear lines that were expected to be observed, but if "coloring" outside the lines got you lynched, that's hardly better. Different battle, same war. Racism in America is a stagnant, fetid sewer. We should thank our Trump for stirring it up. Maybe now we'll do something about the stench.

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    1. Good point. "Better" is the wrong word. "Clearer."

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    2. Yeah, that line stood out to me as "debatable," at a minimum. I don't have Tony's guts, so I wouldn't have mentioned it, but I was imagining you'd get some push-back elsewhere on Facebook or Twitter or wherever. Regardless, a very gracious reply, NS...

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    3. Debatable doesn't mean wrong. My opinion is also debatable. Ain't America great?

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