African American Black Art

The study of African American black art is often presented in three distinct historical eras, all marking significant social and political achievements in the fight for freedom and equality for people of color.

The antebellum era is, of course, the beginning of African American black art in this country.  Many of the enslaved artisans of the day came to the United States as highly skilled craftsmen who had mastered their skills or artform in Africa.

These earliest African American black artists were sometimes hired out so others could benefit from their creative gifts and talents.  Some slave masters even allowed the artist slave to earn and keep wages received for his or her creative efforts.  These generous slave owners were often abolitionists sympathetic to the plight of the slave.

The post-Civil War era in African American black art brought wider acceptance of the creative talents of former slaves and freedmen.  The bigger cities of the northern states, particularly New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Chicago embraced African American black art and artists although with discriminatory restrictions that limited exposure even in these more open-minded arenas.  In the South, the black artist was most warmly welcomed in New Orleans.

Abroad, African American black artists found acceptance and freedom of expression in cities such as Rome and Munich, with Paris reigning supreme as a welcoming haven for African American black art.

The Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and 1930s brought dramatic change to the African American black arts and culture, and the country in general.  The emerging black middle class had freedom and income with which to enjoy and participate in artistic endeavors in ways never before experienced.  Thousands of people fled the South, with its tainted memories of slavery, hardship, and racial hatred, to the more open-minded cities of the North.

Legendary venues such as the Cotton Club and the Apollo Theater enjoyed soaring popularity with jazz and blues music blurring racial barriers and creating national celebrities of many black musicians.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), founded in 1909, was becoming more firmly established in American culture, opening the doors for the Civil Rights movement that was to come a few decades later.

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