It is said that if you walk a mile in a mans shoes, you will know the man. An exhibit viewing through this weekend at the Museum of African American Art at the Macys in Baldwin Hills gives viewers the opportunity to get to know 13 present and past civil rights greats by the footprints of their granite and bronze shoes donated to the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic site in Atlanta.
The showThe International Civil Rights Walk of Fame Exhibit (ICRWFE)arrives in Los Angeles on the final leg of a national tour sponsored by Macys and features footwear donated by inductees into the Trumpet Awards Foundation which is a program of the walk of fame.
The actual International Civil Rights Walk of Fame was established in Atlanta at the promenade of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site. The product of the efforts of Xernona Clayton and the Trumpet Awards Foundation (of which she serves as CEO and president), it consists of individual tiles inscribed with the names and footprints of significant individuals making sacrifices in the area of civil rights.
Claytons laurels include work with Los Angeles-area drop outs in the early 1960s, a close association with Martin Luther King throughout the Civil Rights Era, and becoming the first African American woman to host a prime time television talk show in a southern market in 1968 (The Xernona Clayton Show which debuted on WAGA-TV in Atlanta, Georgia).
Past inductees into the Trumpet Awards have included the late Prime Minister of Jamaica, Michael Manley, South African clergyman and peace activist Desmond Tutu, and the Indian nationalist and nonviolence advocate Mahatma Gandhi. While the honorees, as denoted in its title, are international in scope, care has also been taken with the exhibit to recognize local figures who have made an impact on the struggle for equality and the betterment of their fellow man, says native Angeleno Sandra Lewis-Cooper, vice president and diversity development coordinator for the Macys West Division of Macys, Inc.
Towards that end, inductees have included individuals involved with minority progress in Los Angeles, like Councilman Bernard Parks, and Congresswoman Maxine Waters. In keeping with the educational purpose for which the project was conceived and to ensure it is more then a static monument, an annual touring exhibit was inaugurated. This year it traveled to Atlanta, New York City, Chicago, Washington, DC, and Cincinnati before arriving in Los Angeles, the tours final destination.
Other civil rights leaders whose shoes are included in the exhibit are Lerone Bennett, Jr., Senator Edward William Brooke III, Clayton, Sammy Davis Jr., Mayor Shirley Franklin, Benjamin Lawson Hooks, Rev. Jesse Louis Jackson Sr., attorney Clarence B. Jones, Congressman John Robert Lewis, Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, and the Honorable Douglas Wilder.
There is also an old adage that you can tell a lot about a person by looking at their shoes. The ones on display here convey an implication of sensibility because they consist largely of loafers and oxfords. The notable exceptions are a pair of patent leather dancing shoes belonging to Sammy Davis Jr., and a pair of black New Balance running shoes worn by Jesse Jackson.
Like numerous other mundane articles of clothing and devices for everyday usage, shoes have evolved from an item of necessity into one that denotes achievement and status. For the upwardly mobile, shoes can be a way of demonstrating standing amongst ones peers, and yet among the enclaves of youth brought up in Californias beach communities, arguably among the most expensive real estate in the world, shoes are seldom worn.
In Los Angeles black community, each successive generation may be distinguished by the type of foot wear they remember from their youth. Having the right pair of shoes meant that you were in the know, as well as an inkling about what clique you aspired to. Middle-aged black men can rhapsodize at length about the cap toe biscuits they wore to house parties on Saturday nights. Others who fancied themselves outlaws (legitimate or wanna-bes) might reminisce about the croak-a-sacs (shoes made of burlap) worn while kickin it with the homies.
In a larger sense, shoes can represent success, in this, perhaps the most materialistic city in the country, if not the world. Nowhere is this more evident than in the pervasive influence of hip hop fashion on the mindset of the younger generation with its objectification of sports apparel, especially athletic shoes, along with the de rigueur gaudy gold chains and oversized watches. As a result, an accompanying amount of criticism, has been generated over media encouragement of the pursuit of ostentatious wealth by disadvantaged youngsters who theoretically have few options available besides the commission of criminal endeavors to acquire high priced items. This twisted form of commodity fetishism may have reached its zenith when a rash of shootings and murders were committed to obtain the Holy Grail of ghetto style settersthe Air Jordan basketball shoe.
But what about the shoes of our leaders, whose footprints have beaten a path for freedom? They have inspired us to go beyond merely filling their shoes to creating our own imprint in the struggle for justice. While there were certainly those who yearned for the next big thing in shoe fashion, there were others who were quietly placing one foot in front of the other, focused on marching for peace – oblivious to style or comfort.
In 2004, civil rights activist Clayton hit upon the idea of a collection of shoes worn by notable leaders at the global, national, and regional level to represent the long struggle (or march) toward equality, racial and otherwise. With all the attention focused on the opulence of shoes, they are, still after all an implement for walking and a method of locomotion, and in sharp contrast to the pursuit of opulence and materialism commonly associated with shoes, the Macys exhibit Footprints displays the shoes of individuals who have made a difference in the welfare of their fellow human beings or who were marching towards progress.
The symbolism of shoes and the act of walking
The presence of Rev. Jacksons New Balance running shoes in the exhibit awakened the memory of one gallery visitor, life-long inhabitant of South Los Angeles and alumnus of Jefferson High School (circa the 1970s), Clarence Taylor, who shared a high school antidote.
During that time Jeff had the reputation as one of the rowdiest institutions in the Los Angeles United School District. The school got a badly needed moral boost when Jackson, resplendent in a dashiki visited the campus with Soul Train impresario Don Cornelius who wore a three piece suit. Taylor said their presence on campus seemed unreal, and at the same time uplifting because it signified that someone important cared about those living on the east side of town.
During the student assembly, Jackson was asked if hed ever felt dumb, and he related an embarrassing moment while traveling in the Middle East when he, an educated, sophisticated man, was reduced to using a small boy passing by to translate Farsi into English. The sight of the Reverends well worn shoes brought this back to Taylors memory.
Clayton conceived the Walk of Fame as an on-going monument with room for future inductees who have demonstrated a commitment towards the continued advancement of human dignity and social justice. And the Footprints exhibit has given people around the nation the chance to know these leaders in a feet-on-the ground kind of way.
Echoes of our past
The artistry of Palmer Hayden
By Gregg Reese
Originally from Virginia, Hayden was born Peyton Cole Hedgeman in 1890, and took up drawing even before he started his formal education. During a stint in the army he took up the name which he carried for the rest of his life when a superior had trouble pronouncing his birth name. His tenure in the service included tours in the Philippines and at West Point, during which he engaged in artistic pursuits via correspondence courses, and upon his discharge, he moved to New York to continue his studies in earnest, first at Columbia University, and then at what is now Cooper Union, before securing financial assistance to study in Europe for five years.
Upon his return to the U.S. in 1932, he became a member of the Work Projects Administration (WPA), a depression era agency set up under Franklin Roosevelts New Deal to employ millions of people (including significant numbers of blacks) whod previously been on relief during that hardscrabble period. Today, the WPA is remembered for the huge number of high quality murals, posters, and other works commissioned as well as the many artistic talents it nurtured who later received world wide acclaim.
Hayden specifically committed himself to the depiction of Negro life both in the rural south and in the teeming metropolis of New York and Harlem particularly, which by that time had become an intellectual Mecca for people of color and a spring board for racial consciousness that led to the black protest movement, which in turn fueled the Civil Rights Movement decades later. The era is noteworthy for the efforts of writers, musicians, and the like to celebrate black identity instead of slavishly imitating the dominant European traditions. Considered conservative compared to his peers who embraced social realism as a means to effect change, Hayden himself was none-the-less among the first to use African imagery in his oil and watercolor paintings.
Among the images that stand out in this exhibition are a series of oils dedicated to the legend of black folk hero John Henry. These 12 canvases, completed over a decade long interval, depict various stages in the life of virtually the only black figure from American mythology, culminating in his fatal duel with a steam-powered hammer during the westward extension of the railroad. The subject of countless interpretations in film and song, John Henry today stands as a metaphor for mans struggle against technology and the inevitability of change.
The artwork on display is on loan from the permanent collection of the Museum of African American Art, which maintains a standing exhibit and gift shop on Macys third floor. The show was under written by Macys, a proud original sponsor of the project. Embracing the philosophy that diversity is essential to long range success in the future of any business organization, Macys has developed a holistic approach to integrate their marketing strategy with their placement of stores in the most varied locations of the country, including Guam and Puerto Rico.