On August 28, 1963, the leader of the American Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King, proclaimed, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a country where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character”. Beforehand, the lesser-known opening to this era-defining speech had recalled the Emancipation Proclamation 100 years ago that had first freed the slaves. Referencing these two poignant moments in the history of African-Americans provided the defiant backdrop to a national story of epoch-making music, cohesive family tradition, and political struggle.
Out of the work songs of the Deep South – sung by those forced to work their lives for no pay – came the haunting rhythm and melody of the Blues, and in its turn followed the matchless exuberance of inner-city Jazz. To accompany these pioneering musical forms, the world’s first nightlife districts emerged in New York’s Harlem and Chicago’s Maxwell Street. All the while segregation in public life was still in force, and the Civil Rights movement that gathered steam in the 1950s and 1960s hinged on a series of equally public gestures: Tommie Smith and John Carlos’s black power salutes on the Olympic podiums, and boxer Muhammad Ali’s refusal to go and fight and die in Vietnam. The power to resist and fight for African-American rights in a land still plagued by inequality lives on in the visual arts of present-day USA through artists such as Glenn Ligon, Kerry James Marshall, and Iona Rozeal Brown, and these historic prints carefully selected to celebrate a love of African-American culture.