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Elevation from Within: The Study of Art at Historically Black Colleges and Universities

Rosalind Sallenger Richardson Center for the Arts, Wofford College, Spartanburg, South Carolina
September 1, 2021 – December 17, 2021

In the wake of the Civil War, African Americans—enslaved and freed, in the South and the North—sought and fought for the education they had long been denied. From elementary lessons to advanced academics, standardized instruction was largely provided by white teachers in schools operated by white philanthropic organizations, such as the American Missionary Association. Available public education offerings, especially at secondary and college levels, were unequivocally separate, but never equal.

Following passage of the Second Morrill Act in 1890, land-grant institutions for black students were established in each of the Southern states. The African Methodist Episcopal Church had also begun to open black colleges—schools where African American intellectuals served as administrators and faculty members, schools that offered their student bodies an “unapologetic black space.” The handful of antebellum black colleges and universities grew to over ninety institutions by 1900; in the 1930s, the number of campuses peaked at 121. As the twentieth century progressed and court decisions secured scholastic opportunities for African Americans, approximately seventy-five percent of all black students attending college in the United States were enrolled at historically black colleges and universities—defined as those established before 1964.

Booker T. Washington’s early emphasis on vocational training eventually gave way to more robust curriculums in the liberal arts and laboratory sciences. In HBCU classrooms and studios, fine arts departments nurtured gifted African Americans eager to articulate their individual genius, as well as their shared cultural heritage. Curated by Dr. Leo Twiggs and featuring 47 works by 41 artists, Elevation from Within pays homage to HBCU alumni and professors whose educational backgrounds chronicle a vital chapter of American history and whose aesthetic achievements have made an indelible mark on this nation’s art.

Elevation From Within is on view at Wofford College's Rosalind Sallenger Center for the Arts from September 1–December 17, 2021. The exhibition is open to Wofford students, faculty, and staff Tuesday through Friday from 1-5pm and is open to the public Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from 1-5pm and Thursdays from 1-7pm. Masks are required. In 2022, Elevation From Within will be strategically placed at historically black colleges and universities with connections to the highlighted artists.

Featured artists: Benny Andrews, Ernie Barnes, John BiggersBeverly BuchananClaude Clark, William Cooper, James Denmark, Aaron Douglas, Rex Goreleigh, James HerringLoïs Mailou Jones, Gwendolyn Knight, Hughie Lee-Smith, Norman Lewis, Samella Lewis, Corrine Mitchell, Robert Neal, Hayward Oubre, Arthur Rose, William Scott, Mildred Thompson, Leo Twiggs, Laura Wheeler Waring, James Wells, Charles White, Ellis Wilson, Winston Wingo, Hale Woodruff