When the results of Alabama’s special elections came in on Tuesday evening, I could feel the nation collectively breathe a sigh of relief, and for a brief moment, our moral compass recalibrated itself. Tuesday should be a reminder to all of us that every vote counts. Most importantly, black women not only showed up to the polls, they canvassed black districts, knocked on doors and made countless calls to get out the vote.
In the days following the election, this painting by Kerry James Marshall came to mind, not only for his touching tribute to the 4 little girls who perished in Alabama’s 16th Street Baptist Church bombing but also for the powerful central figure in the painting. An excerpt from my July 2 review of Kerry James Marshall’s show featuring this work explains further.
In “Souvenir 1”, another large unstretched canvas features a 1960’s style living room that feels like my grandmother’s Oakland house. In this painting, a woman with the gilded wings of an angel is carefully arranging items on a marble table. In a visual tableau that many black grandparents featured in their homes, portraits of MLK, JFK and Bobby Kennedy hang on a wall behind the woman. Looming above her appearing as thought clouds are the portraits of 11 slain civil rights icons including Malcolm X, Fred Hampton, Medgar Evers, Mississippi Civil Rights workers Cheney, Schwerner and Goodman along with Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Denise McNair who were the 4 little girls killed in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham. In gold cursive, the words “In Memory Of” are scripted below the portraits. As much as the work is in honor of the dead, it is also in reverence to the women who quietly led the civil rights movement and continue to be stewards of the movement’s legacy.“