I think black people have to be in control of their own image, [not] just sit back and let other people define our existence. Spike Lee

Jean Michel-Basquiat / Painter

Gordon Parks / Photographer

Spike Lee / Filmmaker

Tyree Guyton / Installation/Painter

Selma Burke / Sculptor

Kara Walker /Paper Sculptor

Jacob Lawrence / Painter

Jackie Ormes / Cartoonist


Jackie Ormes (August 1, 1911 – December 26, 1985) is known as the first African American female cartoonist. Her strips, featuring the lovable characters Torchy Brown, Candy, Patty-Jo, and Ginger, appeared in the Chicago Defender and Pittsburgh Courier in the 1930s - 1950s. 

Jackie Ormes said, “No more…Sambos…Just KIDS!” and she transformed her attractive, spunky Patty-Jo cartoon character into the first upscale American black doll. At long last, here was an African American doll with all the play features children desired: playable hair, and the finest and most extensive wardrobe on the market, with all manner of dresses, formals, shoes, hats, nightgowns, robes, skating and cowgirl costumes, and spring and winter coat sets, to name a few. (Jackie Ormes Online)


Surprise! Alabama Town Accidentally Invites Black Drag Queens to Perform in Christmas Parade

Semmes, Alabama is a town of some 3,000 mostly white and conservative people located just outside of Mobile, Alabama. The town puts on an annual Christmas parade that is organized by a group called Friends of Semmes, and this year, the group unwittingly invited some guests that they apparently did not vet so well, considering the audience that the guests would be performing for.

Those guests were none other than the Prancing Elites, a group of five young black men from Mobile who happen to be gay. They have been around since 2006 and were formed in part because males were not allowed to audition for the dance teams in their schools. Their style of dance is called “j-setting”, a form of cheerleader style hip hop. It also happens to be, according to the Prancing Elites Kickstarter page, very popular in southern black gay nightclubs.

So with all of this in mind, you can imagine that when the Prancing Elites showed up for the Semmes, Alabama Christmas parade to perform, dressed in skimpy Santa Claus outfits and wearing makeup, that their act was going to go over like a lead balloon.

Prancing Elites leader Kentrell Collins said: “We are no different than any team out there dancing. We want people to stop looking at gender and focus on the talent,” he said. “It’s OK for a woman to put on tights and play football but when a man wants to put on leotard and tights, it’s a problem.”

Viva Prancing Elites and their courage to perform in defiance of bigotry!

D. Miller, English, Howard

“My style is very goth, Afrocentric.”

Large (Wikimedia)

Henry Ossawa Tanner painted The Thankful Poor in 1894. As a nineteenth-century depiction of African-American subjects painted by an African-American artist, it’s an unusual work.

In the United States, as in many places, becoming an artist in the nineteenth century required much more than talent. Prestige in the art world generally required fairly traditional training, and a network of patrons and other artists. While Tanner was by no means the first African American artist, he was one of the first to manage both.

Thomas Eakins’ tutelage helped—Tanner’s technical knowledge served him well, and gained him patrons. But even more than that, Tanner succeeded in navigating the sometimes subtly, sometimes overtly racist American art world—although it eventually drove him to seek refuge in Paris.

Because of his patrons, and his relative prestige, Tanner was able to have a little more creative control over his own work—and still earn enough money to continue. Here, he chooses to depict a quiet and compelling moment of prayer between an old man and a young man.


Rammellzee X Basquiat X 1982

Jean-Michel Basquiat and Rammellzee on Santa Monica Blvd after exiting Maxfields in Los Angeles. Photos by Basquiat’s assistant Stephen Torton.