CIVIL RIGHTS ART COLLECTION
Metropolitan Baptist Church keeps on permanent exhibit a collection of sixteen oil paintings depicting the
history of the Negro Civil Rights Struggle. Published in 1967, this collection is a pictorial record of major
incidents in this struggle toward full human dignity. Below is the Artist's statement regarding this collection.
The first seeds of an idea concerning my paintings were planted in the fall of 1964. I had followed very closely
via television and the press, the coverage of the atrocities perpetuated upon peaceful citizens seeking just
equality under a democratic system. During one of the television newscasts, an "average man on the streets" in
Mississippi wanted to know why everyone was so excited about the Medgar Evans murder. He made the remark that "a
nigger ain't good for nothing but target practice." I became quite upset upon hearing this remark because I then
began to realize the magnitude of the obstacles which the "movement" had to surmount.
I simply wanted to see literally how one human being could regard another human life as merely a target to shoot
at, so I did a rapid sketch in Casein Colors on a piece of brown wrapping paper portraying a Negro representing a
target (the bulls-eye) to another human being. I made this sketch to concentrate on and see if I could actually
comprehend how one of God's images could hold such little regard for a like image. I must confess my total failure
About a week later, a friend was viewing some paintings in my studio when he noticed my sketch which I had tacked
to the wall. He was quite impressed with it and he chided me for "nonchalantly painting such a powerful, emotional
thing on a piece of brown paper." He thought such an idea should have permanence; he convinced me to do the idea
in oil on a permanent structure. I decided that I would do this; but as I worked on this painting (which started
to change somewhat from the original concept), I found myself being drawn deeper into the real meaning of the
I finally concluded that we are in the apex of a great historical development which, in the end, might make the
word Democracy a total realization. I decided upon a series of paintings which would depict the Struggles
of the last great minority group, within the democratic framework, to attain all the benefits of a democratic
society. The thought of such an artistic undertaking seemed rather awesome. How could I show my immense respect
and admiration for the people who had actually endured these hardships? How could I communicate my own personal
feelings to the masses to laymen and stay within the realm of creativity? I did not wish to merely illustrate a
story nor did I want to alternate the masses through esoterically aesthetics.
After much contemplation, I decided to interpret various events which had occurred during the present struggle.
Each event would be interpreted and depicted as a separate entity but would bear a relationship to the overall
theme. My approach would involve a use of realistic forms, which could withstand distortion whenever necessary;
flat, subdued colors, because I did not wish for "brush and color virtuosity" to detract from the theme; and a
"zig-zag" motif throughout the entire series, which might convey the idea of actual or impending violence.
Personal symbols were used to emphasize subjective feelings such as: The purple "swastika" in "The Mississippi
Three." The before mentioned 'bulls-eye' in "The Target." The act of the man using the "Confederate flag" as a
cleaver in "Little Rock." The religious symbols on the walls in "Birmingham `63" as well as the pile of rubble
near the child in the upper part of the painting resembling the mound of a grave. The child's tricycle on the
porch in "Mr. Dahmer's Night Visitors." The child's rag-doll outside the house where the "Night Assassins" are
planting the bomb. The Confederate flag on the arm of the policeman in "Southern Chivalry." The burning cross in
"Church Burning." The zig-zag cross on which the figure lies in "Death of Rev. Reeb." The faces coming out of the
darkness of ignorance into the light of realization in "Uniting for a Common Cause."
The present series was completed after one and one-half year's work, because I was unable to devote my full time
to it. I embarked upon this venture with a firm belief that significant history is being made in our time and I,
as a Black artist, could do no less than attempt to record - perhaps for future reference - the suffering,
patience, inspiration, faith and hope of those people involved.
-WILLIAM C. BYERS
METROPOLITAN BAPTIST CHURCH
13110 FOURTEENTH STREET
DETROIT, MICHIGAN 48238 PHONE: 313-869-6676 FAX: 313-869-4250
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METROPOLITAN BAPTIST CHURCH: REMEMBERING THE PAST RESHAPING THE FUTURE