Harriet Tubman Mural at Bennett Women’s College

Aaron Douglas (United States)

Among Douglas’s most important works are large‐scale murals. Using a modernist language of geometric and abstract forms, he depicted slavery, emancipation, the power of education, and the contributions of African Americans to American culture and the nation’s economy. Allegorical and epic, the narratives draw on Egyptian wall painting and Ivory Coast sculpture as well as modern architecture, jazz, and dance.

Douglas’s major mural projects included Harriet Tubman, commissioned by Alfred K. Stern of
Chicago for Bennett College for Women. Douglas uses modernist imagery to depict the slave era heroine, Harriet Tubman, who was responsible for leading more than three hundred slaves to freedom by way of the Underground Railroad. Douglas wrote that he portrayed Tubman “as a heroic leader breaking the shackles of bondage and pressing on toward a new day.” Behind her and stretching back symbolically to Africa are the black men and women who toiled and prayed through three hundred years of servitude. “The group of figures to the right . . . symbolizes the newly liberated people as laborers and heads of families. The last figure symbolizes the dreamer who looks out towards higher and nobler vistas, the modern city, for his race. He represents the preachers, teachers, artists, and musicians of the group. The beam of light that cuts through the center of the picture symbolizes divine inspiration.”

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