Charles Alston’s Harlem Hospital Murals: Cultural Politics in Depression Era Harlem
Prospects, Cambridge University Press journal, 26, 391- 421, December 2001
Larry A. Greene, Ph.D.
Department of History
In 1936, the Works Progress Administration/Federal Art Project (WPA/FAP, 1935–43) appointed New York City artist Charles Alston (1907–77) to be the first African American to supervise a New Deal mural project. Initially, white hospital authorities rejected the works by Alston on the basis that they “contain too much Negro subject matter,” which would make them unappealing to residents of Harlem. This judgment angered Alston, since his designs were consistent with project guidelines. While it was common for muralists to base their subject matter on the local community and its history, and in fact the WPA/FAP encouraged artists to do so, officials tried to cancel Alston's commission on these very grounds. Their attempt to prevent artistic self-representation in the 1930s followed on the heels of prolonged racist hiring policies at Harlem Hospital.