Tag Archives: segregation

Struggles of Desegregation in David Hammons’ “The Door (Admissions Office)”

David Hammons The Door (Admissions Office), 1969 Wood, acrylic sheet, and pigment construction 79 x 48 x 15 in. California African American Museum, Los Angeles, Collection of Friends, the Foundation of the California African American Museum, EL113.030. © David Hammons
David Hammons
The Door (Admissions Office), 1969, Wood, acrylic sheet, and pigment construction, 79 x 48 x 15 in.
California African American Museum, Los Angeles, Collection of Friends, the Foundation of the California African American Museum, EL113.030. © David Hammons

As I was walking around the Blanton, the free standing door with the handprints and inkblots that read ‘Admissions Office’ immediately caught my eye. Just a simple observation of the door made it clear to me that it was from a school from long ago. The door was probably taken from a building and painted by the artist. The artist applied black paint on himself and pushed himself against the door while rolling his face, in order to get the print we see. As I got nearer, it became clearer what was on the door. Handprints and an impression of a body were on the glass in acrylic paint. The symbolism of African- American struggle to attend school in the American South was vibrant at this point. We fully see the African- American individual fully pressing their body against the door, hoping to get in and have the same opportunities as everyone else.

If we look in history books we can find numerous instances where African- Americans faced adverse situations in everyday life in the American South in the 1960s. They faced trouble walking on the sidewalk, sitting in a public bus, going out to the movies and in numerous other everyday tasks. Even when they wanted to attend school to obtain an education, it was met with violent and sometimes deadly reactions. The Door (Admissions Office) simply shows how hard it was for African- Americans to attend school. The prints of a face and even the body as a whole clearly show the amount of force was put onto the door. The admissions office was a huge deterrent in the way of countless individuals in the American South. It was a metaphor of southern society blocking African- Americans from progressing and being able to garner even their most basic rights. No matter how much one could bang against, lean against or even try to break down that admissions door; it often refused to budge. It has been said that putting African- American children in the same classrooms as white children was the most drastic and potentially far- reaching aspect of the civil rights movement (School Desegregation).

In some instances we saw the admissions office ‘barrier’ be fortified by white southerners who literally stood in the way. When two African- American students attempted to enroll at the University of Alabama, Governor George Wallace physically placed himself in front of the door. Governor Wallace stated “segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever” (Wallace). Despite Governor Wallace’s stance, the students stood their ground and fought for their rights.

When James Meredith enrolled at the University of Mississippi it was met protest and violence. Like Governor Wallace in Alabama, Governor Ross Barnett in Mississippi promised to block James Meredith from enrolling at Mississippi. Those protesting were met by the Mississippi National Guard under the orders of President Kennedy. Despite all this Meredith was defiant and believed that he was at war fighting for his civil rights as an American citizen and that the University of Mississippi was his battleground. Meredith showed, in my opinion, total bravery and fought for justice in the unjust society he was living. His act of courage is one that not only every Mississippian but also every American should know.

One did not have to be alive in the Civil Rights era to be touched by the profound artwork in the exhibit. What happened in the 1960s was about equality among all races. This concept is vital because lessons from the civil rights era can be spread far and wide. It is valuable to consider the events that unfolded during the civil rights era because it helps us understand race issues in the current world we live in. Being able to see the work in this exhibit is almost like entering a time portal to the past. One can almost feel like they are the student being denied admission to the school of their liking by an imposing admissions door with a body print on it of a student pressing against the door, almost trying to go through it and have the chance to earn an education that is civil right for all.

Zohaib Qadri is a Sociology major at UT. Besides David Hammons’ The Door, he was struck by Pauline Boty’s Countdown to Violence. His favorite book is Of Mice and Men. When he isn’t studying, you can catch him watching House of Cards.

Works Cited

Elliot, Debbie. “Integrating Ole Miss: A Transformative, Deadly Riot.” NPR. NPR, 01 Oct.         2012. Web. 25 Mar. 2015.

Elliot, Debbie. “Wallace in the Schoolhouse Door.” NPR. NPR, 11 June 2003. Web. 24 Mar. 2015.

“School Desegregation and Equal Educational Opportunity.” The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. The Leadership Conference, 2015. Web. 24 Mar. 2015.

 

 

 

Belonging and Demographics in Rockwell’s “New Kids in the Neighborhood (Negro in the Suburbs)”

Witness
Installation view of Witness: Art and Civil Rights in the Sixties

The work in Witness that mesmerized me most was the Norman Rockwell’s oil on canvas, New Kids in the Neighborhood (Negro in the Suburbs). It is the first painting displayed in the exhibition. The painting depicts five characters: two African-American children and three white children staring each other. One African American boy in a white long sleeve shirt and plaid shorts holds a baseball glove; and a smaller African American girl stands right next to him. She looks a bit worried as she holds onto a white cat. She wears a pink dress and a matching hair tie and socks. On the other side of the canvas, one white boy, as tall as the African-American boy, has a bit of attitude and is in a yellow long sleeve shirt and jeans, also holding onto a baseball glove; there is a shorter white boy next to him, who is in a baseball uniform leaning towards to take a closer look at the African American children; and a white girl in a pink hair tie, who is standing right behind the two white boys. The white children have a black dog that looks directly at the African-American children as well. Behind the children, an adult is busy moving items out of a moving truck. Beyond the moving truck, parts of average suburban houses not too far from each other, hinting at the kind of neighborhood this is . Grass is green, and the some of the furniture is out on the yard. The two African-American children are standing closer to the houses, suggesting that they are the ones moving into the neighborhood. The painting is realistic. Its tone is not too bright or too dark but resembles natural light on a regular day. A bit of tension between the two groups of children can be felt through the work.

Norman Rockwell gained his success early. He was hired as art director of Boy’s Life, the official publication of the Boy Scouts of American, when he was a teenager (2). Starting at 22, Rockwell worked for The Saturday Evening Post. In 1963, Norman Rockwell left his iconic position as an illustrator at The Saturday Evening Post because the magazine refused to publish his more socially engaged work. Rockwell moved to the Look magazine where he started illustrating his concerns and interests including civil rights, America’s War on Poverty, and the exploration of space for the next 10 years. New Kids in the Neighborhood was reproduced in 1967 in a Look magazine article on integration in the suburbs (2).

This artwork resonated with me, because it reminded me of when I first moved to the United States at age 9. The way that the black girl is looking at the white kids is essentially how I felt when I first moved to the US. I felt separated. I felt like the white people were watching me closely because I was different. The tension between the two groups of children reflected to me the tension I felt when I was interacting with other racial groups as a young girl. Rockwell’s realistic figures in a suburban setting contributed to my connection. In addition, learning about the artist’s life story and his belief in racial equality made me appreciate the artwork more. Knowing Rockwell’s background and the choices he made to produce more socially-engaged work made me consider this painting as even more powerful that I initially thought.

New Kids in the Neighborhood illustrates segregation in the 60s. Segregation is any practice that separates a population based on race, religion, or ethnicity. Under Jim Crow Laws , there were two separate societies: one black and one white (4). At this time, African-American could not ride the same rail car, sit in the same waiting room, share the same theater, or attend the same school as white folks. In 1954, the Supreme Court declared segregation in the public schools as unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education case. After this, bus-riding Freedom Riders, marchers, boycotter, and other protesters started fighting against racial inequality not just in education, but also in everyday living, through the Civil Rights Movement of the 50s and 60s (4).

Rockwell used many different techniques to draw attention to the issue of segregation. First the physical separation of the two races is illustrated through the gap between them. The center of the painting is an empty space and the main characters are facing each other from the opposite side. This amplifies the tension between the groups. He used the suburbs as the setting to illustrate the fact that segregation is not only a problem in the urban area, but extends throughout the country, including the suburbs. The artist’s decision to use children was deliberate as a way to suggest innocence. The baseball gloves in the hands of both white and African-American boys allude to the great American pastime. Also the girls in this painting are both wearing a pink hair tie. Together, these aspects illustrate the commonality between the two raced groups. I believe that Rockwell used these subtle techniques to portray the state of the nation at the time and his belief that both race share common values and together make up the nation.

In sociology, segregation can explain inequality and demonstrates how external forces change demography. As mentioned earlier, segregation was a major problem facing the society in the 60s –and continues to be a problem today.. The economic and social impact of extreme segregation could be why the African American children in Rockwell’s painting moved to the suburbs,. An area where effects of segregation are imagined to be positive and not as harsh as in other places.

Race, along with income, education, place, and gender, is a social location. A social location indicates an individual’s particular chance at being “at risk” and shapes the contours of illness and disease once a person becomes sick (1). As studied in Dr. Sharon Cavanagh‘s Population and Society class, segregation leads to chronic stress due to unfair treatment. This can lead to many health problems that have a tremendous effect on the fertility and mortality rates of the population (1). Because the main characters of New Kids in the Neighborhood are children the weathering effects of living in a race-conscious society as African Americans have not yet reached the population at that age, it might not be immediately apparent that there are health disparities among the children. Fertility and mortality rates are important processes in population changes, which have a huge impact on the development of the population. In order to understand population change, it is necessary to see how population is impacted by forces such as segregation.

Julie Choi is a third year public health major at the University of Texas at Austin.  She was born in South Korea and moved to San Antonio when she was 9. She enjoys being outdoors, hiking, hanging out with friends, and playing music. 

Works Cited

Cavanagh, S. “Week 4 Lecture.” SOC 369K Population and Health. The University of Texas at Austin, Austin TX. 12 Feb. 2015. Lectur

“Norman Rockwell.” com. A&E Networks Television, n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2015.

Rockwell, Norman. New Kids in the Neighborhood (Negro in the Suburbs). 1967. Oil on Canvas. Blanton Museum of Art, Austin Texas

“1960’s Civil Rights Movement.” Historybits. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2015.