The "Pictorial Historian of The Black World" Almost Wasn't

painting of black folx gathering outside
Via Flickr
Abeni Jones
August 31, 2022

Romare Bearden’s legendary artwork pioneered collage and photomontage and inspired activists and artists during the Civil Rights movement. But if he didn’t value his integrity and wasn’t firmly committed to his community, he may have never become an artist at all.

While attending Boston University in the 1930s, Bearden pitched for his college baseball team. He was recruited onto the Boston Colored Tigers, a Negro League semi-professional team. 

His excellent pitching caught the eyes of a major league team: the Philadelphia Athletics. They offered him a spot. 

But there was a catch.

Because Bearden was so light-skinned, they figured he could pass as white - and made this a requirement of signing him.

He proudly declined. Playing major league baseball and the paycheck attached wasn’t appealing enough for him to sell out his people.

Instead, he moved to Harlem and  focused on his art. His collages captured Black life like no one else. He and other Black artists formed the Spiral Group to support Black artists and the Civil Rights movement.

As it happened, his artwork was hugely influential and continues to inspire us today. His story is a potent reminder of the power of following our values, staying true to our community, and refusing to sell out!

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