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

White, lithograph in Wanted Poster series, 1970
White, lithograph in
Wanted Poster series, 1970
- Claude Clark, Slave Lynching, oil on canvas, 1946
- Charles White, lithograph in Wanted Poster series, 1970

By taking different approaches to the common theme of slavery, these works illustrate important changes in black consciousness.

In Claude Clark's Slave Lynching, a white man scourges the back of a nude black slave. The slave's body forms a graceful curve, with the lower legs kneeling on a platform and the torso sweeping upwards. Outstretched arms are tied at the wrists to a low cross. The curves of the torturer's body and the truncheon he wields echo the curve of the slave's body and suggest the movement and force of the blows. The beating takes place in the yard of a big house filled with a crowd that appears to include black as well as white onlookers. Here the African American is the innocent, indeed Christ-like, victim of white brutality.

When Charles White confronted slavery in the late 1960s he sought different meanings. White found a series of pre-Civil War posters advertising slave auctions and rewards for runaway slaves. Using these as inspiration, he commented on slavery and its impact by placing images of African Americans within the posters. The one offered here shows the face of a woman and a boy cameoed within what appears to be a crinkled slave auction poster. He has placed a large "X" between the two faces and painted the date 1619, the year of the arrival of the first Africans in Virginia, in the upper left corner and 19?? in the upper right. The work assumes a complex attitude toward slavery. The "X" represents an assertion of black will in the face of the slave heritage, while the entire piece acknowledges slavery's lingering impact.

Claude Clark (1915-2001) was born into a family of tenant farmers in Georgia. In 1923 the family moved to a suburb of Philadelphia. In school he developed his artistic skills, which eventually won him a scholarship to the Pennsylvania School of Industrial Arts, from which he graduated in 1939. From 1939 to 1942 he worked for the Works Progress Administration (WPA) as a printmaker. Thereafter until his retirement in 1981 he taught art at a variety of colleges throughout the nation.

Charles White (1918-1970) was born in Chicago. After courses at the Chicago Art Institute and the Art Students League, he joined the WPA. His work there led to a commitment to create art that renovated the black image in this country. In 1941, while at Dillard University in New Orleans, he married sculptor Elizabeth Catlett (see Themes I and IV). The following year the two moved to New York. His skill as a draftsman led to his election to the National Academy of Design in 1972. From 1965 until his death he taught at the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles. (4 pages.)

Discussion questions
  1. How does Clark portray the African American in Slave Lynching?
  2. What is Clark protesting?
  3. What is the goal of his painting?
  4. What is his protest strategy?
  5. Why has he staged the beating in front of an audience?
  6. How does he involve the viewer in the painting?
  7. How does White portray African Americans in his Wanted Poster lithograph?
  8. What do the dates mean in White's Wanted Poster?
  9. What does the "X" mean?
  10. How does White suggest slavery's impact on the black family?
  11. What is White protesting?
  12. What is the goal of White's work?
  13. What is his protest strategy?
  14. Which work more effectively masters the heritage of slavery by transmuting it into art?

Framing Questions
  •  What forms did African American protest take?
  •  How did protest strategies and goals evolve over time?
  •  In what ways was African American identity shaped in opposition to the larger American society?

Clark: 1
White: 1
TOTAL 2 pages
Supplemental Sites
Claude Clark Online, from Artcyclopedia

Claude Clark, brief overview from the St. Louis Art Museum

Charles Wilbert White Online, from Artcyclopedia

Charles White, brief overview, from the University of Delaware Art Gallery

Charles White, brief overview, from the Smithsonian American Art Museum

*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: Charles White, lithograph in Wanted Poster series, 1970. University of Delaware Art Gallery, Driskell Collection. Permission pending.

1. Asking   2. Reasoning   3. Singing   4. Marching
  5. Boycotting   6. Arming   7. Voting   8. Separating
  9. Connecting   10. Writing   11. Poetry   12. Theater   13. Images

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

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