Wall of Respect

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Wall of Respect
Wall of Respect.jpg
Mural by various artists of the Organization of Black American Culture led by William Walker, photograph by Robert A. Sengstacke)
Mediumpaint on masonry

The Wall of Respect was a mural first painted in 1967 by the Visual Arts Workshop of the Organization of Black American Culture (OBAC). The mural represented the contributions of fourteen designers, photographers, painters, and others,[1] notably Chicago muralist William Walker. Some of the artists would go on to found the influential AfriCOBRA artists collective.[2] The work comprised a montage of portraits of heroes and heroines of African American history painted on the side of a building at the corner of Chicago's 43rd Street and Langley Avenue, an area called the Black Belt. Notable images included Nat Turner, Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Gwendolyn Brooks, W.E.B. Dubois, Marcus Garvey, Aretha Franklin, and Harriet Tubman.[3]

Wall of Respect was an example of the Black Arts Movement, an artistic school associated with the Black Power Movement.[4] The scholarly journal Science & Society underscored the significance of the Wall of Respect as "the first collective street mural," in the "important subject [of] the recently emerged street art movement."[5] The Wall became famous as a "revolutionary political artwork of black liberation".[2] The Wall became a source of inspiration and pride for the black community. For some, the Wall represented not only artistic freedom, but the freedom and liberation that could be obtained as a result of the Civil Rights Movement. However, soon after its creation, increasingly polarized interpretations of heroic action within the African American community caused conflict over the paintings,[6] notably with the replacement by artist Eugene Eda of more defiant leaders and symbols, such as the fist of the Black Power Movement.

Wall of Respect catalyzed a larger mural movement in Chicago. Chicago is known for the plethora of murals in cultural neighborhoods. The explosion of murals throughout Chicago is due, in part, to the creation of the Wall of Respect. By 1975 at least 200 large outdoor murals existed mostly in African American Neighborhoods. The Wall of Respect's success also sparked a movement of large open-air neighborhood mural paintings across to the United States. In the eight years following the Wall's unveiling, more than 1,500 murals were painted, many taking the same name, or variations beginning with, Wall of . . ..[7]

After a 1971 fire damaged the building on which the Wall of Respect was painted, the entire structure was torn down and the mural thus destroyed.[8] The mural visually lived on in photography, particularly, the studies by OBAC photographer, Robert A. Sengstacke.[9] Largely forgotten by the mainstream art world, the Wall of Respect continues to be an important cultural reference point for local community members and the subject of scholarly inquiry. Recent efforts, such as an online exhibit organized by the Block Museum at Northwestern University (which includes a clickable map of the Wall's individual portraits),[10] and the edited volume, The Wall of Respect: Public Art and Black Liberation in 1960s Chicago (Northwestern University Press, 2017), aim to recover the Wall's history and make it accessible again.[11]


  1. ^ Cockroft, Eva (1977). Toward A People's Art: The Contemporary Mural Movement. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc. p. 143. ISBN 9780525221654.
  2. ^ a b Sayej, Nadja (2018-06-15). "AfriCOBRA: the collective that helped shape the black arts movement". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2019-11-11.
  3. ^ Ellsworth, Kirstin L. (2009). "Africobra and the Negotiation of Visual Afrocentrisms". Civilisations. 58 (1): 21–38.
  4. ^ Morrison, Allan (August 1967). ""A New Surge in the Arts"". Ebony. 22 (10): 134–38.
  5. ^ Refregier, Anton (Winter 1978). "Book Review". Science & Society. 42 (4): 496–499.
  6. ^ Ellsworth, Kirstin J. (2009). "Africobra and the Negotiation of Visual Afrocentrisms". Civilisations. 58 (1).
  7. ^ "Chicago's 'Wall of Respect' inspired neighborhood murals across U.S." Chicago Tribune. July 29, 2017. Retrieved 2018-12-18.
  8. ^ Sorell, Victor (1979). Guide to Chicago Murals: Yesterday and Today. Chicago, IL: Chicago Council on Fine Arts. pp. 48–49.
  9. ^ Campkin, Ben; Mogilevich, Mariana; Ross, Rebecca (2014-12-08). "Chicago's Wall of Respect: how a mural elicited a sense of collective ownership". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2018-12-19.
  10. ^ Mary and Leigh Block Gallery; Northwestern University; Academic Technologies Division (2000). Wall of Respect. Evanston, Ill.: Mary and Leigh Block Gallery.
  11. ^ Alkalimat, Abdul; Crawford, Romi; Zorach, Rebecca (2017). The Wall of Respect: Public Art and Black Liberation in 1960s Chicago. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press. ISBN 9780810135932.