W.O.N. Mural Society. Image 5/20

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"The Great Migration", by Marcus Akinlana assisted by Juan Angel Chavez, Stephanie George, Dorian Sylvain, Julia Sowles, Nyame Brown, Carrie Naumann and other assistants, 1995, 2700 sq. ft., medium acrylic paint. Location: Elliot Donnelley Youth Center Art Playlot, 3947 S. Michigan, Chicago. Funded by Chicago Community Trust, Chicago Public Art Group, Chicago Youth Centers, Elliot Donnelley Center and others.


This mural depicts the story of the Great Migration. It was done in conjunction with a BBC documentary and with a traveling exhibit put together by the Chicago Historical Society, called "From Field to Factory".

The mural shows you the glory days of "Bronzeville" what this area was called back in approximately the '20s and '30s, when it was a thriving part of the black community. This was during the days of segregation. The music was there - the culture was being brought up North from the Deep South. It was an exciting time.

At that time Blacks had quite a few businesses in their community as compared to now. It was a big step up for you to come from being a sharecropper in Mississippi to being a working class laborer in Chicago, or even possibly owning your own business. There was no welfare system at that time. Everybody was working; everybody had a hustle of one kind or another.

On the eastern side of the mural, there's a sharecropping family crossing a very idealistic representation of the Mississippi River (I painted it blue instead of brown). They're crossing the river and bringing the blues to Chicago.

At the corner of the wall is a train, which is symbolic of the Illinois Central that ran straight from New Orleans to Chicago - one of the major ways a lot of black folks moved from Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama and Mississippi up to Chicago.

On the next wall you've got a woman stitching a lampshade. They had a lot of cottage industries all over the South side at one time, where people were working out of their own homes to produce things for larger companies.