This Day in History – October 3, 1979

artist Charles White died in Los Angeles at the age of 61


On this day in 1979, artist Charles White died in Los Angeles at the age of 61.

Born on April 2, 1918, White was known especially for his murals. His best known work is The Contribution of the Negro to American Democracy, a mural at Hampton University.

When he was seven years old, his mother bought him an oil paint set. Almost immediately, White was hooked on art. As a child, he additionally studied modern dance, played music, and was involved with theatre groups.

At the age of 14, he got a job painting signs. Although during the Great Depression, White tried to hide his art passion in fear of embarrassed, he began to embrace his talent.


After high school, White received a full scholarship to the Art Institute of Chicago. To pay for his art materials, he got a job as cook and later took up a part time position teaching art at St. Elizabeth Catholic High School.

After graduating college, he moved to New Orleans and taught at Dillard University. Additionally, he taught at the Otis Art Institute from 1965 until his death.

White’s artwork can be seen at a number of institutions, including the Library of Congress, the Oakland Museum, Syracuse University, Atlanta University, Minneapolis Institute of Art, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. He was elected to the National Academy of Design in 1972.

His work was also featured in Two Centuries of Black American Art, LACMA’s first exhibition devoted to black artists.


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