Have you seen this? The dramatic John Steuart Curry mural commemorating the Emancipation sits in the UW Law Library’s old Reading Room. Too controversial in 1936 for a U.S. Department of Justice Building, it was painted instead at UW-Madison.
Many events are planned on campus during Black History Month. Gazing at this mural brings home a seminal moment in black history. The once enslaved people themselves are at the center of the mural, having set in motion their own liberation.
Lloyd Garrison, dean of the UW Law School commissioned Curry to paint the sweeping mural on the north wall of the room in 1942.
Curry had first proposed the mural for the new Justice Department building in Washington, D.C. But nervous politicians rejected it. The painter, who had just begun a 10-year term as artist-in-residence at UW–Madison, shared the idea with Dean Garrison.
Garrison also happened to be the grandson of the famous abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison. With a $6,000 donation from the Pabst family of Milwaukee, Garrison commissioned Curry to paint the mural in the new law library, then under construction.
“I felt from the beginning that the mural would be appropriate for the law building,” wrote Garrison. “[It] proclaims in a noble and patriotic setting the dignity and freedom of all people. “
In addition to the mural at the Law School, Curry painted other works on campus including “The Social Benefits of Biochemical Research” in the Biochemistry Building and a memorial painting to All-American David Nathan Schreiner in the National W Club room in Camp Randall.