Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Childhood is Without Prejudice



Childhood is Without Prejudice, 1977
William Walker
56th Street and Stony Island Avenue

            William Walker (1927-2011) was born in Birmingham, Alabama and raised in Chicago. His service in World War II and the Korean War entitled him to four years of college on the GI Bill. He entered the Columbus College of Art & Design in Ohio in 1953 as one of two black artists enrolled at the time. He later won the school’s 47th annual group award, the first African Americans to receive the honor. After graduation, he painted his first murals in Memphis, but returned to Chicago in 1955.
            In 1967, at a time when African American’s were seldom seen in mainstream media, Walker painted the Wall of Respect on the side of a grocery-and-liquor store at 43rd Street and Langley Avenue, featuring 50 African American political, religious, artistic and sport icons. The inscription read, “Honor our Black Heroes, and to Beautify our Community.” It was the first mural to be created for a community.  Even though it was located in a high-crime neighborhood, it was never defaced. The building and the mural was destroyed by fire in 1971, but the piece established Walker as one of the fathers of the community mural movement.
            He co-founded Chicago Mural Group (later renamed the Chicago Public Art Group) in 1970. Childhood is Without Prejudice, sometimes referred to as Children of Goodwill, was created as a tribute to nearby Harte School (1556 East 56th Street) where his daughter had been a student. Walker wanted to express his appreciation for the school’s promotion of racial harmony. Said to be the artist’s personal favorite, the piece includes a series of overlapping and interlocking faces that represent the potential unity of all races. 
            Walker continued painting until 1988, when he no longer could climb the scaffolding. His final mural honored Mayor Harold Washington. After Walker’s death in 2011, fellow CPAG artist Olivia Gude, professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, told the Chicago Tribune, "Fifty years ago, there was no such thing as a community street mural movement. Now we take it for granted. It's hard to understand what Bill Walker — and the great Chicano artists of that era — created. They created a new art form." Gude and Bernard Williams restored Childhood is Without Prejudice  in 1993. One of Walker’s other works, Wall of Daydreaming and Man’sInhumanity to Man, at 56th Street and Calumet Avenue,  originally painted in 1975 with Mitchell Caton was restored in 2003.

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