Philip Evergood, ‘Little Rock’, ca. 1955, Robert Funk Fine Art
Philip Evergood, ‘Little Rock’, ca. 1955, Robert Funk Fine Art

Evergood's early commentary on racial issues in the 1950's depicts four black men gagged, roped and hanging from a tree. In the background, imprisoned blacks look on thru a barbed wire fence. Whites watch in horror but do nothing to help. Meanwhile, a two legged and three headed serpent wraps himself around the tree that physically and symbolically separate the races. This is an important work in the history of American art. It may be one of the very earliest examples of a major American painter doing a major work that challenges racial segregation and injustice at a time when no one else would.

The title of the work is inspired from a Historic Supreme Court decision on racial segregation. The Little Rock Nine was a group of nine African American students enrolled in Little Rock Central High School in 1957. Their enrollment was followed by the Little Rock Crisis, in which the students were initially prevented from entering the racially segregated school by Orval Faubus, the Governor of Arkansas. They then attended after the intervention of President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

The U.S. Supreme Court issued its historic Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, on May 17, 1954. Tied to the 14th Amendment, the decision declared all laws establishing segregated schools to be unconstitutional, and it called for the desegregation of all schools throughout the nation. After the decision, NAACP attempted to register black students in previously all-white schools in cities throughout the South. In Little Rock, the capital city of Arkansas, the Little Rock School Board agreed to comply with the high court's ruling. Virgil Blossom, the Superintendent of Schools, submitted a plan of gradual integration to the school board on May 24, 1955, which the board unanimously approved. The plan would be implemented during the fall of the 1957 school year, which would begin in September 1957.

There are two themes that define this work .

The Artist.

In 1954, few white people could see American racial issues and have the courage to make a bold public stance about it.
This painting is an act of bravery. It’s about Vision. It’s about Guts.

The Art.

Evergood was a Jewish American, fresh with the horrors of WWII in his mind.

Nazi Germany exterminated Jews. Evergood felt America was exterminating Blacks.

The world looked on with horror the1940’s but did not do anything. In this work, whites look on with horror do nothing.

The White House and and a concentration camp like building are seen together.

It’s not one black man being killed, i’s a group of blacks that are systematically killed in the same way.

Imprisoned blacks, witnessing the execution as they grasp the prison bars. Are they next in line for the death gallows?

Evergood is saying that this is America’s Holocaust.

Signature: Signed lower left

Schatten Gallery, Emory University

ACA Gallery, New York.
Gallery of Modern Art, Columbus Circle New York
Owen Gallery, New York

About Philip Evergood

For Philip Evergood (born Philip Blashki), painting was a form of social protest. In 1923, he studied at the Art Students League under George Luks, where he began painting contemporary life with artists John Sloan and Reginald Marsh. But it was the Great Depression that inspired the most drastic change in the artist’s oeuvre, as he turned to drawing horrific scenes of poverty directly from the city’s streets. At the same time, he became an advocate for social change, serving as managing supervisor of the New York WPA easel project and president of the Artists Union. More concerned with conveying emotion than beautiful composition, and influenced by El Greco, Paul Cézanne, and the Surrealists, he used what he described as “the nasty color or sickly color, the sweet color or violent color or pretty-pretty-dolly color that will express the mood of what I’m trying to put over.”

American, 1901-1973