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John Baker, Julia Bottoms, Chuck Tingley, and Edreys Wajed

The Freedom Wall, 2017—by John Baker, Julia Bottoms, Chuck Tingley, and Edreys Wajed—on the corner of Michigan Avenue and East Ferry Street. Photograph by MK Photo.

The Freedom Wall,

Public Artwork Details


Commissioned by the Albright-Knox Art Gallery Public Art Initiative in partnership with the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, 2017

Location: Michigan Avenue and East Ferry Street (Get Directions)

View all 28 portraits and learn more about these notable civil rights leaders

Watch a documentary about the making of The Freedom Wall

The corner of Michigan Avenue and East Ferry Street in Buffalo is the northern entrance into the Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor: a nexus of the city’s deeply rooted African American history. It marks the intersection of the honorary Richard Allen and Harriet Tubman Ways, and it is home to Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church (Bethel AME). Organized in 1831, Bethel AME is Buffalo’s oldest black religious institution and served as a critical station on the Underground Railroad.

Julia Bottoms working on a portrait of Arthur O. Eve for The Freedom Wall. Photograph by Tom Loonan.

Artist Chuck Tingley at work on a portrait of Angela Davis for The Freedom Wall. Photograph by Tom Loonan.

Artist John Baker at work on a portrait of Thurgood Marshall for The Freedom Wall. Photograph by Tom Loonan.

Artist Edreys Wajed at work on a portrait of Harriet Tubman for The Freedom Wall. Photograph by Tom Loonan.

A view of The Freedom Wall in progress. From left to right: Malcolm X, Alicia Garza, George K. Arthur, W. E. B. DuBois, Eva Doyle, and Huey P. Newton. Photograph by Tom Loonan.

The museum's Public Art Initiative, in collaboration with the Michigan Street African-American Heritage Corridor and neighborhood stakeholders, envisioned this mural as a way to celebrate our nation’s historic and ongoing struggles for political and social equality, including the formative and lasting contributions of local leaders to this cause. With support from the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority (NFTA), the large concrete wall surrounding the NFTA’s Cold Spring Bus Maintenance Depot has been transformed into portraits of twenty-eight notable civil rights leaders from America’s past and present.

The list of subjects was generated from multiple public meetings with community members that yielded hundreds of suggestions, featuring a mix of local and national leaders. The success of this mural stems from those candid and inspiring meetings, and the final work is designed to reflect a broad and boundless conversation. A guidance committee composed of local historians, community activists, and artists, including Karima Amin, Max Anderson, Dr. Cynthia Conides, Hiram Cray, Eva Doyle, and Dr. Henry Taylor helped determine a consensus list. In selecting and ordering the final 28 subjects, the group aimed to shape a unique story about civil and human rights work in American history, with an eye toward contextualizing national work and local impact.

Vital contributions from community meetings also helped determine the team of artists that painted these portraits over the summer of 2017: John Baker (born 1964), Julia Bottoms (born 1988), Chuck Tingley (born 1983), and Edreys Wajed (born 1974). Each artist is a native of Buffalo, currently lives and works in the region, and holds a degree from SUNY Buffalo State.

People gathered for a community event at The Freedom Wall on August 15, 2017. In back, artist John Baker at work on a portrait of Shirley Chisholm, artist Julia Bottoms at work on a portrait of Martin Luther King, Jr., and artist Chuck Tingley at work on a portrait of Mary B. Talbert. Photograph by Tom Loonan.

No group of 28 individuals could ever possibly encompass the national and local history of civil rights. The fight for social and economic justice in the United States is far from over, and the story and the struggle continue. While celebrating the crucial work that has been done, this project is intended to encourage conversations about the full scope of the long journey toward equality and freedom, the work still yet to do, and the actions all of us can take to bring about a most just and equitable world.

The list of subjects depicted is as follows, with each artist alternating panels for a total of seven works each.

  1. Rosa Parks 
  2. Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Toure) 
  3. Mama Charlene Caver Miller 
  4. William Wells Brown 
  5. King Peterson 
  6. Angela Davis 
  7. Bill Gaiter 
  8. Malcolm X 
  9. Alicia Garza 
  10. George K. Arthur
  11. Al-Nisa Banks 
  12. W. E. B. Du Bois 
  13. Eva Doyle 
  14. Huey P. Newton 
  15. Shirley Chisholm 
  16. Frank Merriweather 
  17. Martin Luther King, Jr. 
  18. Mary B. Talbert 
  19. Reverend J. Edward Nash, Sr.
  20. Dr. Lydia T. Wright 
  21. Frederick Douglass
  22. Dr. Monroe Fordham 
  23. Thurgood Marshall 
  24. Fannie Lou Hamer 
  25. Arthur O. Eve 
  26. Minnie Gillette 
  27. Marcus Garvey  
  28. Harriet Tubman

Project Sponsors

Public Art Initiative mural projects are generously underwritten by the New Era Cap Foundation. Additional support for this mural has been provided by Hyatt’s Graphic Supply Company.

Initiative Sponsors

The Public Art Initiative was established and is supported by leadership funding from the County of Erie and the City of Buffalo.

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