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The Making of African American Identity: Volume III, 1917-1968
Theme: SegregationTheme: MigrationsTheme: ProtestTheme: CommunityTheme: Overcome?
Theme: Community

9.
Elizabeth Catlett, Black Unity, 1968
Image of Community, 1968
- Elizabeth Catlett, Black Unity, wood sculpture, 1968 (PDF)


By the late 1960s many African Americans began to see black identity in communal terms, and, as "The Black Arts Movement" suggests(see #8: Community and Culture), that community coalesced around internal, self-determined definitions rather than in response to the external pressures of white oppression. Moreover, it also included an explicit acknowledgment of the African roots of the black community. This new notion of community differed from that advocated in the nineteenth century by such black leaders as Rev. Alexander Crummel, who, preaching the value of the "social principle," urged backs to unite for self-help and protection (see The Making of African American Identity, Vol. II). In the critical year of 1968, Elizabeth Catlett captured this new spirit of community in her sculpture Black Unity. When she created it, Catlett had been living in Mexico for nearly twenty years. Out of rich, dark mahogany, she carved a sculpture that on one side features a clenched fist and on the other two faces, done in the style of African masks. Whereas the fist resoundingly communicates power, aggression, and strength, the male and female faces are remarkably serene and self-possessed. (1 page.)


Discussion questions
  1. What community values does Black Unity represent? Compare them with those expressed by Augusta Savage's sculpture Lift Every Voice and Sing (see #4: Image of Community, 1939).
  2. Beyond aggression, what does the closed hand suggest?
  3. Compare Catlett's use of hand imagery with that which Booker T. Washington employed in his Atlanta Exposition Address (see The Making of African American Identity, Vol. II).
  4. What do the closed eyes of the faces suggest?
  5. How does Black Unity assert a connection to the African American past?
  6. In what ways does Black Unity reflect Larry Neal's essay "The Black Arts Movement" (see #8: Community and Culture)?
  7. In the light of Malcolm X's Rochester address (see #10: Global Community), in what ways does Black Unity represent the global struggle for black liberation?

Framing Questions
  •  How has the African American community defined itself?
  •  How has the African American community functioned in the lives of its members?
  •  How have changing notions of African American identity affected definitions of African American community?

Printing
Black Unity: 1 page
Supplemental Sites
Elizabeth Catlett, overview, in African American World (PBS)

Elizabeth Catlett, overview, in the African American Registry

Elizabeth Catlett, overview and selected works, from Mojo Portfolio

Elizabeth Catlett, overview and selected works, from North Carolina Central University Art Museum

Elizabeth Catlett, overview and selected works, from Yale University Press

Elizabeth Catlett Online, links to online works, from Artcyclopedia


*PDF file - You will need software on your computer that allows you to read and print Portable Document Format (PDF) files, such as Adobe Acrobat Reader. If you do not have this software, you may download it FREE from Adobe's Web site.




Image: Elizabeth Catlett, Black Unity, mohagany sculpture (front and back), 1968. Brooks Museum of Art, Memphis. Permission pending.




COMMUNITY
1. Community as Place   2. Community on Film
  3. Community & Self-Help   4. Image, Community 1939   5. Race as Community
6. Community & the Folk   7. Community & Memory
8. Community & Culture   9. Image, Community 1968   10. Global Community








TOOLBOX: The Making of African American Identity: Volume III, 1917-1968
Segregation | Migrations | Protest | Community | Overcome?


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