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African American Art

Ten years before the Civil Rights Act was signed into Law by former President Lyndon Johnson in 1965, a baby named Kerry James Marshall was born in Birmingham Alabama. By the time Marshall, an African American, would reach his tenth birthday and experience the signing of this Act America he had witnessed a turbulent era in the history of American race relations. When he was eight Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous I Have A Dream Step at the Lincoln Memorial that galvanized the civil rights movement. Just a few short months later John F. Kennedy would be assassinated helping win sympathetic support from both Houses of Congress for the Civil Rights Act. By the time Marshall reached his fifteenth birthday Martin Luther King Jr. would also fall to an assassin’s bullet. One year later Marshall and his family would survive the Watts Riots in Los Angeles where they made their home.

Throughout this turbulent and controversial period in American history, Marshall busied himself with books – especially picture books. Inspired by the pictures and drawings he saw, Marshall decided he wanted to be a visual artist. As one biographer notes, “Themes and ideas present in Marshall’s work reflect the complex web of personal and social issues that have been instrumental in molding his life” (Biography 1). Like many Black youths of era, Marshall was deeply affected by the injustice, racism, and oppressive discrimination he witnessed at all levels of American society. Having survived such violent confrontations as the confrontation between city police officers and the Black Panthers in Watts first-hand, such experience made an indelible mark on the young would-be artist.

Like many young artists in an oppressive environment, Marshall was determined to voice his protest through his art. Through his art he could depict the realities he understood in a nonviolent and creative manner. The Watts experience left a permanent m...

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African American Art. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 21:56, May 27, 2020, from