The Historical Repository is a celebration of African American literary and artistic advancements for over 300 years. Art and literature are innate to the African American culture. And though much of the artistic achievements from slavery through to the turn of the 19th century were stolen, erased from history or otherwise unattributed to the black artist, he and she continued to create, to carve, to sculpt, to paint, to write, to weave, to inspire, to lecture, to appeal to the better sentiments of humanity, and to promulgate ideals and values which would transcend slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, economic, political, and social disenfranchisement and to continue the struggle for equality.
The evolution of African American art and literature is replete with challenges to our capacity for intelligence and creativity. Phillis Wheatley had to face a panel in Boston to prove that she had in deed written her poems. Many other great works of art by African Americans during slavery and long after, were attributed to white individuals and are today in some cases, in the hands of transcendent of thieves. As early as 1820, Roman Catholic priest Abbé Henri Grégoire’s created “La Société des Amis des Noirs” (Friends of the blacks Society) to offer support for Phillis Wheatley and others. Abbé Grégoire, whose group included some of the principals of the French revolution such as Maximilien de Robespierre and Marquis de Lafayette, published a few articles as part of his abolitionist manifesto: “An Enquiry Concerning the Moral Faculty and Literature of Negroes” and then “Account of the Life and Works of Fifteen Negroes and Mulattoes Distinguished in Science, Literature, and The Arts”, to dispel the notion that Negroes did not have the intelligence to write literature and poems. For his group, Wheatley’s writings were proof that “the Negro was endowed with creative intelligence”.
Much of the black artistic tradition was brought from Africa. Much was honed in America and elsewhere, as required for practical application. And much was allowed to foster in foreign cities such as Paris, which offered the black artist and intellectuals the space to be humans, when America deemed them slaves and properties which did not even merit an American passport in order to travel. On applying for a passport in 1859 so he could visit France, Frederick Douglass denied on the basis that, “he was not a citizen of the United States”. Literary scholar John S. Rock, an exceptionally brilliant African American who was a dentist, a teacher, a lawyer, and a medical doctor, having been the one of the first African Americans to obtain a medical degree and the first black person to be admitted to the bar of the Supreme Court of the United States, was denied a passport to travel to France by President James Buchanan’s Secretary of State Lewis Cass, on the basis that “a passport has never been granted to a Negro since the formation of this government”. Countless others such as William Monroe Trotter travelled abroad as stowaways after being denied a passport by the American government on the same basis.
The world, and in particularly African Americans and people of color worldwide have benefitted greatly from the writings of Phillis Wheatley, Jupiter Hammon, William Wells Brown, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, Jessie Redmon Fauset, Zora Neale Hurston, Countee Cullen, Arna Bontemps, Wallace Thurman, Maya Angelou, Richard Wright, Jimmy Baldwin, Chester Himes, and many others. We have benefitted greatly from the oratorical skills and activism of Frederick Douglass, from Ida B. Wells’s crusades against lynching and for justice, from the practical successes of Booker T. Washington, from Marcus Garvey’s instilled pride in being Africans, and from the combined intellects of Anna Julia Cooper, Mary Church Terrell, Mary McLeod Bethune, W.E.B. Du Bois, James Weldon Johnson, Carter G. Woodson, Alain Locke, and many others. We have benefitted greatly from the operatic brilliance of Marian Anderson, and from the artistic genius of Henry Ossawa Tanner, Joshua Johnson, Robert S. Duncanson, Horace Pippin, Archibald Motley, Augusta Savage, William H. Johnson, Palmer Hayden, Nancy Elizabeth Prophet, Hale Woodruff, Romare Bearden, Herbert Gentry, Harold Cousins, Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller, Jacob Lawrence, Lois Mailou Jones, Ed Clark, and Barbara Chase-Riboud, and many others.
As a Paris based artist who continues in tradition of other great African American literary and artistic greats who found a home in the city of lights, Ealy Mays celebrates the achievements of some of these great individuals who have paved the way for artist like him. Ealy Mays Artworks is not the product of an art historian but instead, of an artist who loves history.
The information contained in this Historical Repository is mostly publicly available and can be easily viewed, read, and researched. We encourage you to take a look and familiarize yourself with the individuals profiled and others. Share and celebrate in this proud and rich history with your family and with your friends, and by all means, go out and by a book, a piece of artwork, a print, a posture, merchandise, or memoriibilia of one of your favorite African American artist.
The next time you visit the Louvre, the Metropolitan Museum, the MOMA, or any local museum, please take the time to see a painting or sculpted piece by Tanner, Johnson, Bearden, Lawrence, Savage, Cousins, Clarke, Warrick Fuller, Hayden, Prophet, Duncanson, Motley, Gentry, Woodruff, and others.
Immerse yourself in the history of black art.
Brought to you by Paris Based African American artist Ealy Mays