Last week, David Montague and I finished a run-through for a big virtual book talk we would be giving at University of Arkansas at Little Rock Downtown. The talk incorporated some archival items David and his family gave to the Center for History and Culture that are now on display. At the end of the run-through, UALR Downtown director Ross Owyoung asked us if we wanted to see the exhibit, and David and I both said yes, of course. So Ross grabbed his laptop (where I was connected via Zoom) and walked into the gallery with David.
At the time, the room’s walls were covered by a curtain, and as moving as it was to see Raye’s life in exhibit form, I wondered what the curtain concealed. So I asked Ross about it, and he asked me if I knew who Joe Jones was. I did not. Ross pulled back the curtain to show us the incredibly thought-provoking, 44-foot by 9-foot mural Jones painted called “Struggle in the South.” Completed in 1935, the mural is one of Jones notable protest works about the Jim Crow era, as it depicts black coal miners, sharecroppers and a lynching.
“I’m not interested in painting pretty pictures to match pink and blue walls,” Jones said in 1933. “I want to paint things that knock holes in walls.”
Without question, the mural — which has been lovingly restored by UALR — packs a punch. As David looked at it, and thought about it for a minute, he turned to Ross and said the mural shouldn’t be covered at all. After all, his mother’s life was part of the struggle Jones depicted, and so the two elements should be in conversation with each other, so to speak.
If you’re in Little Rock, I hope you can stop by UALR Downtown between now and March 31 to see what I’m talking about. Even if you miss the exhibit about David’s mom, this mural will remain in place, and is definitely worth your time.