Charles White. Love Letter #1. 1971. Lithograph, printed in color, composition and sheet: 30 1/16 × 22 3/8" (76.4 × 56.8 cm). John B. Turner Fund. © 2021 The Charles White Archives

“Art must be an integral part of the struggle. It can’t simply mirror what’s taking place.”

Charles White

Charles White’s commitment to creating powerful images of African Americans—what his gallerist and, later, White himself described as “images of dignity”—was unwavering over the course of his four-decade career. White believed that art had a role to play in changing the world: “Art must be an integral part of the struggle. It can’t simply mirror what’s taking place. It must adapt itself to human needs. It must ally itself with the forces of liberation. The fact is, artists have always been propagandists. I have no use for artists who try to divorce themselves from the struggle.”1

Using his skills as a draftsman, printmaker, and painter, White developed his style and approach over time to address changing concerns and new audiences. His 1945 lithograph, Hope for the Future, shows a mother holding her child in front of a window that opens onto a bleak landscape; a noose hanging from a barren tree in the background is just visible over the mother’s right shoulder. With this image, White condemns the violence facing African Americans and forces the viewer to confront it. In his much later work Black Pope (Sandwich Board Man) (1973), the central figure, a sunglass-wearing street preacher depicted in the brown oil-wash that would become White’s signature medium, commands viewers’ attention with a sandwich board sign reading “NOW.” The preacher is bundled up in a bulky coat and scarf, while his sunglasses mask his gaze. His raised left hand forms a peace sign that also doubles as a papal blessing. Stenciled text at the top of the composition reads “CHICAGO,” and the haunting skeleton hovering behind the preacher and the shapes and shadows filling the background all hint at further meaning without providing clear answers. White frames the street preacher with gravitas befitting a prophet, leaving the viewer to decode the details.

White lived in Chicago, New York, and, finally, Los Angeles over the course of his career, and was a critical member of creative communities in each of these cities. He counted photographer Gordon Parks, painter Jacob Lawrence, and singer and actor Harry Belafonte as friends and colleagues. From his earliest days as a mature artist, White was also a gifted and dedicated teacher, and David Hammons and Kerry James Marshall were among his many students. His practice of making rigorous, socially committed art affected these younger artists, some of whom continue his legacy in their own work. As Marshall noted, “Under Charles White’s influence I always knew that I wanted to make work that was about something: history, culture, politics, social issues. . . . It was just a matter of mastering the skills to actually do it.”2

Esther Adler, Associate Curator, Drawings and Prints

  1. White, quoted in Jeffrey Elliot, “Charles White: Portrait of an Artist,” Negro History Bulletin 41, no. 3 (May–June 1978): 828

  2. Kerry James Marshall, in “An Argument for Something Else: Dieter Roelstraete in Conversation with Kerry James Marshall, Chicago 2012,” in Kerry James Marshall: Painting and Other Stuff, exh. cat. (Antwerp: Luidon, 2013), p. 21.

Wikipedia entry
Charles Wilbert White, Jr. (April 2, 1918 – October 3, 1979) was an American artist known for his chronicling of African American related subjects in paintings, drawings, lithographs, and murals. White's lifelong commitment to chronicling the triumphs and struggles of his community in representational form cemented him as one of the most well-known artists in African American art history. Following his death in 1979, White's work has been included in the permanent collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the National Gallery of Art, The Newark Museum, and the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. White's best known work is The Contribution of the Negro to American Democracy, a mural at Hampton University. In 2018, the centenary year of his birth, the first major retrospective exhibition of his work was organized by the Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum of Modern Art.
Information from Wikipedia, made available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License
Getty record
Noted as one of the most celebrated and influential African American artists of the twentieth century. Born in Chicago and was educated at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Arts Students league of New York. He spent most of his career between Los Angeles and Chicago. His work, which is mainly figural, deals with the stuggles of African-Americans and humanity.
American, African American
Artist, Muralist, Painter
Charles White, Charles Wilbert White, Charles White III, Charles Wilbur White
Information from Getty’s Union List of Artist Names ® (ULAN), made available under the ODC Attribution License


15 works online



  • MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art Flexibound, 408 pages
  • MoMA Now: Highlights from The Museum of Modern Art—Ninetieth Anniversary Edition Hardcover, 424 pages
  • Among Others: Blackness at MoMA Hardcover, 488 pages
  • Grandpa and the Library: How Charles White Learned to Paint Hardcover, 40 pages
  • Charles White: A Retrospective Exhibition catalogue, Hardcover, 248 pages
  • Charles White: Black Pope Hardcover, 64 pages

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