Exploring the Theme for Black History Month 2024: ‘African Americans and the Arts’

The Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) has declared this year’s (2024) theme for Black History Month ‘African Americans and the Arts’. Black artists have made unmeasurable contributions in the visual, performing, literary, and applied arts; and this year ASALH encourages us to learn and reflect on the “richness of the past and present with an eye towards what the rest of the twenty-first century will bring” (ASALH, 2024). As Black History Month comes to an end, Hamm Clinic wanted to dig a little deeper and learn about some notable Black artists who have helped shape American culture as we know it today. To learn more about ‘African Americans and the Arts’ from ASALH, please visit https://asalh.org/black-history-themes/.

Visual Arts – Loïs Mailou Jones

According to the Norman Rockwell Museum, Loïs Mailou Jones was born in Boston, Massachusetts to two parents who encouraged her in her artistic career. Jones attended the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, and went on to teach at the Palmer Memorial Institute and later Howard University (Geraghty, n.d.). Jones often traveled to Harlem during the Harlem Renaissance period, as well as abroad to Haiti and Africa where she gained inspiration and insight to “infuse her art with her ancestry’s spirit and meaning” (Geraghty, n.d.). According to the Norman Rockwell Museum, Jones went on to receive many awards, both national and international, as well as several honorary doctorate degrees. To learn more about Loïs Mailou Jones’ work and legacy, please visit https://www.illustrationhistory.org/artists/lois-mailou-jones.

Performing Arts – Charles “Buddy” Bolden

Buddy Bolden is best known for his vast contributions to jazz, often referred to as the “first legend of jazz” (Micucci, 2019). As mentioned by a piece by Matt Micucci for JAZZIZ Magazine, much of Bolden’s early life isn’t documented. However, Micucci reported that it is said that Buddy Bolden was born and raised in New Orleans and was first a barber. By the late 1890’s, Bolden led one of the most famous bands in New Orleans, and his fame kept rising. Bolden struggled with mental illness, and unfortunately stopped playing music and was committed to a mental hospital in 1906 (Micucci, 2019). After his death, his memory lived on through the influence he had on jazz music. “It seemed that the sound of Bolden’s cornet was a most cherished memory to those who had heard it and its memory carried a spirit of rebellion and hope” (Micucci, 2019). To learn more about Buddy Bolden’s life and legacy, please visit https://www.jazziz.com/a-short-history-of-the-legend-of-buddy-bolden/.

Literary Arts – Federick Douglass

Federick Douglass is one of the most well known abolitionists, but he was also a literary artist. According to a piece written by Dr. Noelle Trent for the National Civil RIghts Museum, Federick Douglass lived in slavery until his twenties, when he successfully escaped and arrived in New York City. There, he started his career in writing, advocating for abolition. Dr. Trent notes that he first rose to prominence with the publication of his first autobiography, “The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written By Himself”, which detailed his early life

living in slavery. Douglass also advocated through his newspaper writings, he first worked for The Liberator, and went on to create newspapers including The North Star, Frederick Douglass’ Paper, Douglass’s Monthly, and The New National Era (Trent, n.d.). Additionally, Dr. Trent notes that Douglass also advocated for Women’s rights and also held multiple positions at the governmental level, which “demonstrated African Americans could serve in the higher levels of government” (Trend, n.d.). To learn more about Douglass’s abolitionist, advocacy, and literary work, please visit https://www.civilrightsmuseum.org/news/posts/frederick-douglass-abolitionist-journalist-reformer-1818-1895#:~:text=He%20rose%20to%20fame%20with,Lloyd%20Garrison%20and%20Gerrit%20Smith.

ASALH’s theme of ‘African Americans and the Arts’ is a theme that does not only exist during Black History Month, but throughout history and through the future. Black artists have shaped American society and culture as we know it today. The three artists highlighted above made incalculable contributions to the arts, but there are so many more amazing Black Artists that deserve the spotlight as well. As Black History Month comes to an end, we encourage you to continue to reflect on Black Art and artists and the important work they do.

 

References

Geraghty, P. (n.d.). Loïs Mailou Jones. https://www.illustrationhistory.org/artists/lois-mailou-jones

Micucci, M. (2019, March 8). A short history of… the legend of buddy bolden. JAZZIZ Magazine. https://www.jazziz.com/a-short-history-of-the-legend-of-buddy-bolden/

Trent, N. (n.d.). Frederick Douglass: Abolitionist, journalist, reformer, 1818 – 1895. National Civil Rights Museum. https://www.civilrightsmuseum.org/news/posts/frederick-douglass-abolitionist-journalist-reformer-1818-1895#:~:text=He%20rose%20to%20fame%20with,Lloyd%20Garrison%20and%20Gerrit%20Smith.

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