Jack Wolfe
The Lincoln Portraits 

Jack painted two life-size portraits of President Lincoln during the intense activism of the civil rights movement, entitled “Witness – 1958 (The Seated Lincoln)” and “Witness - 1962 (The Standing Lincoln).” Jack said that he wanted these images of Lincoln to be “viewed as a contemporary presence, to stand in our time one-hundred years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation” and to witness white America still denying freedom to black citizens. 

Black Voice – Freedom Summer 1964                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Every element represented in “Black Voice – Freedom Summer 1964,” which Jack painted at that time, was taken from the news and photographic media of the day. The work has a number of intersecting social and aesthetic aims, including the moral imperative to bear witness to American violence against black people; and, Jack’s explicit intention to create a work that would be a catalyst for white people to confront the political and emotional reality of racism in America and the truth of white individual complicity in the scope of racist violence. 

On the LEFT PANEL, "We Shall Overcome" refers to the famous song often used in civil rights’ era marches and meetings, which has origins in spiritual music of the black community dating back to the beginnings of enslavement in America. At center stands a large portrait of Medgar Evers (1925-1963), a prominent civil rights activist who was assassinated in Jackson, MS, in 1963. The panel also contains images drawn directly from the media, including scenes of peaceful protesters and a choir in juxtaposition to police officers with attack dogs, bully sticks, and the spray from fire hoses that were used directly against protesters. In the bottom right quadrant of this panel, a portrait of Emmett Till (1941-1955) is set in a white circle. Emmett Till was fourteen years old at the time of his lynching in Money, MS, which occurred following an accusation that he offended a white woman. At the bottom center of the panel, his open coffin is depicted. The choice of an open casket, made by his mother, exposed the barbarism of the violence that ended her son’s life and focused national attention on the brutality of American racism.[1] Of note, the two men who abducted and murdered him were found not guilty by an all-white jury, although they later confessed to the media.

The RIGHT PANEL includes a large portrait of revered gospel, spiritual, and opera singer Marian Anderson (1897-1993), whose voice is referenced in the painting’s title. To the right, below her portrait, the painting depicts a group of enrobed KKK members and black people working in a field where a cross burns in the distance. This imagery also extends behind Ms. Anderson, where a dark area is interspersed with lights behind a police officer on a motorcycle, a further reference to the prevalent night-time attacks from white racist groups with the involvement of local law enforcement. The Coca Cola bottle at the top left of the panel refers to the brand’s significance, at the time, as a racist symbol. (Coke marketing exclusively targeted whites, while Pepsi advertised to black communities.)[2] The bottom left quadrant of the right panel shows a dam site with the words “NESHOBA,” in reference to the murders of three Civil Rights activists, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, in June 1964. The young men had come to Neshoba County, MS to investigate the burning of black churches and to help register black people to vote. Forty-four days after their disappearance, during which time an extensive search was conducted, their bodies were found under an earthen dam.                                                                                                                                                  
[1] Gray, Deborah White; Mia Bay; & Waldo E. Martin Jr. Freedom on My Mind: A History of African Americans, with Documents. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2013, 637.                                                                                       [2] Estes, Adam Clark, “A brief history of racist soft drinks.” The Atlantic, January 28, 2013. 
Witness  (Seated Lincoln)
oil, 50" x 72", 1958
Greason-Thayer Collection