In 1938, Atlanta-based artist Hale Woodruff (American, 1900–1980) accepted a commission to paint a series of murals for Talladega College, Alabama, one of the first colleges established for African Americans in the United States. Installed in the institution’s Savery Library, the murals portray noteworthy events in the rise of black Americans from slavery to freedom. The first series depicts scenes from the slave uprising on the ship the Amistad in 1839. The second illustrates the founding of Talladega College and delves into themes in the struggle for freedom, education, and equality, which held personal significance for Woodruff as a black man in the Jim Crow South.
Though he painted the murals for a local audience of students and faculty, Woodruff intended their impact to reach beyond Talladega’s campus. The murals attracted national attention. Cultural leaders in the African American community, in particular, championed Woodruff’s paintings, adopting the project as a statement of pride and hope for racial equality. Today the murals remain symbols of the centuries-long struggle for civil rights.
Five of the six murals are installed in the High’s Anne Cox Chambers Wing; the sixth is included in the exhibition Cross Country: The Power of Place in American Art, 1915–1950 (February 12–May 7, 2017).