The Hampton University Museum will receive $75,000 from the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund to assist with the preservation of Charles White’s historic 1943 mural “The Contribution of the Negro to Democracy in America.” The grant will be utilized to install an HVAC system in Clarke Hall, home of the mural. The system will help maintain an environment for the mural’s future conservation.
“Many thanks to the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund for its investment and commitment to protect and restore significant African American historic sites,” said Dr. William R. Harvey, Hampton University President. “This grant not only preserves the rich heritage of “The Contribution of the Negro to Democracy in America,” but it ensures that future generations of Hampton University students and campus visitors are able to remember, learn about and honor those who came before them.”
After visiting colleges in the South, White chose Hampton Institute as the site to create a mural that positively portrayed African Americans. He painted the 11’ x 17’ egg tempera mural on the plaster surface of the wall in Clark Hall’s Wainwright Auditorium. In 1943, the space was the campus YMCA and the center of campus activity and would gain the most visibility.
Hampton’s mural is one of White’s earliest public art commissions and the only one painted on a wall and not canvas. The important theme of the mural is as relevant as it was when White resisted the stereotypes depicted of African Americans. He focused on themes like African American resistance as portrayed by Crispus Attucks and others who battled in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars and historical figures, such as Nat Turner and Denmark Vesey. White also celebrated Marian Anderson, George Washington Carver, Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, and Booker T. Washington, a graduate of Hampton.
Noted artists John Biggers, Samella Lewis, and Persis Jennings recalled being models, mixing paints, and cracking the “100” eggs while serving as student assistants.
Born 1918 in Chicago, Illinois, White studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Art Students League of New York, and the Taller de Grafica Popular in Mexico. His works are in major museums and private collections nationally and internationally. In 1972, Charles White was honored as the third African American artist elected as a full member of the National Academy of Design. In 2018, Charles White: A Retrospective, celebrated the career of this influential American artist.
“I am extremely pleased to receive this funding from the 2021 Cultural Heritage Action Fund,” said Dr. Vanessa Thaxton-Ward, Director of Hampton University Museum and Archives. “First of all the importance of African American landmarks are receiving the support and recognition long overlooked and secondly, this helps us to gain traction on our goal to protect the mural by creating a museum-like approach. I am willing to continue to work towards gaining financial support for the preservation of this important commentary on American history.”
As a 40 Action Fund grantee, the Hampton University Museum is recognized as a steward of an irreplaceable collection of places important in Black culture and American history. The Action Fund is the largest preservation effort ever undertaken to support the longevity of African American historic sites. This year’s grants will help preserve and restore 40 important Black landmarks around the country.
The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, MacKenzie Scott, and other funders allowed The Action Fund to double their grant-making efforts this year. Since July 2018, The Action Fund has invested $7.3 million in 105 preservation projects nationwide.