Norman Rockwell impacted many people with his iconic image of the Civil Rights Movement. Racism is all around America and started a long time ago and is still a big issue in today’s society. In 1960 African Americans strived for equal rights and they wanted the same privileges that whites held. There was school segregation and integration and the Civil Rights movement tried to change that. His artwork showed the black experiences during this time and educates us about racial segregation. However, he used his experiences and made sure that he gave people a voice that couldn’t be heard in his artworks. One of the main things he is known for is his remarkable artistic skill and ability to portray the American spirit. (Samuels 131). Even though people should be treated equally and shouldn’t need to fear their color, Norman Rockwell’s painting portrays the Civil Rights Movement. Using storytelling through his artwork educates us and makes a point for segregation to come to an end.
In the 1960s Rockwell decided to shift and start painting about racial disagreement in American society. The 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case called for racial segregation in public schools is unconstitutional (Richman 6). This case was one of the main reasons Norman Rockwell decided to paint The Problem We All Live With. It captured this moment and Rockwell got to share that to the world. His work emphasized political subjects and he believed he would reach more people this way (Gallagher 176). He was so passionate about this topic and through his artwork, Rockwell could see that segregation was not working for society.
In The Problem, We All Live With was an interpretation of the first day of Ruby Bridges attended the formerly all-white public school (Gallagher 176). He showed life was going to be different for African Americans in the public education system. The four men that she was accompanied by were U.S. marshals who tried to protect her from an angry white mob protesting desegregation (Gallagher 176). This happened a lot back then and, in his artwork, he showed what a young African American goes through even though they haven’t done anything wrong. She is the focal point and draws attention to the audience with her white dress, shoes, and hair bow. He noted “the girl in that painting, at six years old, knew absolutely nothing about racism” (Richman 6). This showed that she was just trying to go to school and not disturbing anybody but because of her color people discriminated against her. An article stated that “Rockwell’s choice of young black children as the primary subject and was significant in evoking shared humanity” (Gallagher 185). The characters show propaganda in which the civil rights problem was easily solved and that we can all get along (Gallagher 185). He wanted to portray that African Americans weren’t equal and being discriminated against by their color. By his artwork, he wants to make people feel something and realize this is wrong and should be fixed.
Another piece of his artwork was inspired by a magazine that inspired the question “How We Live”. It was a series of stories about the ghettoization, interrogation, and white flight, and not having equal opportunity in housing to minorities (Gallagher 176). The choice of colors and compositions made this piece the realistic of the trouble this little girl had to go through. The background of the painting states the word nigger and also how rude and cruel it was back then. As she is walking, the word is shown in blood-colored remains of a thrown tomato which also portrays murder and cruelty. It showed how tragic the African Americans were treated and that they were unequal. Rockwell was arguing that blacks want to share white institutions but that whites needed to accommodate them (Gallagher 184).
He was using a form of popular illustration to reach out to audiences reminding them of the civil rights debate (Gallagher 185). Trying to reach out and impact people with his paintings is so powerful even more so back then. He made sure to use his ability to paint to get across points to both white Americas and tell them that this isn’t okay. Rockwell “demonstrated that, if whites were to remain true to American ideals, and, therefore, to themselves, they would have to generate justifications for accommodating blacks like Ruby. That is, they would have to find ways of living, respectfully, with African Americans” (Gallagher 186). This big statement shows how we need to find a way to share and be respectful to people of color and that was unheard of at this time. People were scared to voice their opinions and he wanted to be the person to stand up and make everyone realize this is terrible for our nation.
This artwork still has so much impact on people’s lives because racism still goes on today, even if it’s not as bad as it used to be. People still judge on the color of skin and that shouldn’t be the case. We have worked so hard for everyone to be equal in the 21st century but racism still goes around even though it’s not as public as it was in years past.
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