This colorful mural by artist Alice Patrick is on the side of the office of the National Council of Negro Women in Los Angeles. The woman in black is famous African American educator Mary Bethune (1875-1955), founder of the organization. Next to her in orange is the 1991 president, Dr. Dorothy Height (1912-2010). The other older women painted in color were meant to be anonymous women who took part in the struggle for black rights and women’s rights. In the back are other black women of note—Josephine Baker, Oprah Winfrey, Sarah Vaughn, and Florence Griffith-Joyner.
I’ve written about Mary Bethune before, a woman who favored dark, tailored clothes. The contrast between her conservative style and the brightly dressed Height is at the center of the mural. Height wears orange and has a piece of kente cloth draped across her lap. We can see the contrast even in their shoes. While Bethune wears the ubiquitous lace up oxfords, Height has on more stylish high heels.
Unfortunately I don’t quite understand the outfits of the two other women in the front row. Maybe some of you can help me. What is the woman on the left holding? And why does the woman on the right have a shawl over her head? One source I read said that the woman in red, with the a no fuss hair cut and sensible but brightly colored shoes, was styled after the artist herself.
Hear Alice Patrick talk about the making and restoring of the mural here.