At A Glance
Commissioned by the Reverend Paul Washington to connect scriptural themes with the history of Black people in Africa and America
Painted by Philadelphia artists Walter Edmonds and Richard Watson, active participants in the church’s activities
Individual Biblical passages inspire each of the murals
The Church of the Advocate in North Philadelphia was the site of numerous rallies and events held by Black activist groups during the Civil Rights Movement. Yet visitors and parishioners to the church felt the institution failed to validate and represent the African-American experience. Consequently, the Reverend Paul Washington conceived the idea of bringing the “people’s art” indoors by commissioning murals for the church sanctuary.
From 1973 to 1976, Edmonds and Watson donated their services to create a series of 14 murals that link scriptural themes with the history of Black people in Africa and America.
After receiving approval for the project from the church congregation, Reverend Washington appointed local artists Walter Edmonds and Richard Watson to paint the murals on waterproofed plywood and provided a focus for the effort by presenting the artists with a compilation of Biblical excerpts and contemporary thoughts about the struggle for Black equality. From 1973 to 1976, Edmonds and Watson donated their services to create a series of 14 murals that link scriptural themes with the history of Black people in Africa and America, using the passages for inspiration. The enslavement of Joseph in Egypt provides a parallel for slavery in America; the Hebrews’ escape from Pharaoh corresponds to the Emancipation Proclamation and Nat Turner’s rebellion. The artists also interpreted events of the 1960s. The two largest murals, each 20 feet by 25 feet, are Watson’s Creation and Edmonds’s I Have a Dream.
Adapted in part from Public Art in Philadelphia by Penny Balkin Bach (Temple University Press, Philadelphia, 1992).