The Amistad Murals consists of three panels: The Revolt, The Court Scene, and Back to Africa. They are housed in Savery Library and are known as one of artist Hale Aspacio Woodruff’s best known works. Woodruff was commissioned to paint the murals in 1938 and they have become known as one of his best documented works. After completing a time in Mexico City studying and working with Diego Rivera, the world famed Woodruff went to Talladega and completed a true documentation through art of La Amistad and its cargo. The murals attract visitors and art enthusiasts from around the world.
Mural No. 1: The Revolt
The incident began during April 1839 on the West Coast of Africa when 53 Africans were kidnapped from the Mende country, in what is now known as modern Sierra Leone. They were sold into Spanish slave trade. The men, women and children were shackled and loaded aboard a ship where many endured physical abuse, sickness, and death during a horrific journey to Havana, Cuba.
Mural No. 2: The Court Scene
The case took on historic significance when former President John Quincy Adams argued on behalf of the captives before the U.S. Supreme Court. This was the first civil rights case in America. In 1841, the 35 surviving Africans won their freedom, two years after they were captured. The Mende Association was then formed which later became The American Missionary Association.
Mural No. 3: Back To Africa
The third panel represents the landing of the repatriated slaves on the shores of Africa. Here, the principal figures are Cinque, the missionaries, James Steel with his sea chest, and the little Black girls, Margue, who in later years had a son who returned to graduate from Yale University with a Ph.D. degree. In the background lie their ship at harbor, and a boatload of their party just landing on the beach.
Hale Woodruff’s Other Savery Library Murals
Mural No. 4: Underground Railroad Scene
The history of the Underground Railroad is one of individual sacrifice and heroism of enslaved people to achieve freedom from bondage. Perhaps the most dramatic protest against slavery in the United States, it was an operation that began during the colonial period and later became part of the organized abolitionist activity in the 19th century, and reached its peak in the period 1830-1865.
While most runaways began their journey unaided, many completed their self-emancipation without assistance. Each decade during slavery in the United States, there was an increase in the public perception of an underground network and in the number of persons willing to give aid to the runaways.
Mural No. 5: First Day of Registration at Swayne Hall
In 1867, Freedmen were poor and unable to pay tuition on the first day of registration. They, therefore, are depicted bartering with their chickens, pigs, barrels of fruit and vegetables, musical instruments, a plow, sugar cane, etc. They are advised by the counselor and curriculum coordinator on classes and what to expect in school. In the background is Swayne Hall, the oldest building on campus.
Mural No. 6: Building Savery Library
Funds raised by Talladega College, individual contributions, a grant form the General Education Board totaling $65,000, a grant from The Harkness Foundation, sale of college land and insurance on a barn destroyed by fire allowed for the construction of Savery Library. Construction began in September 1937, with Joseph Fletcher, a 1901 alumnus, serving as Superintendent of building and grounds and in charge of the construction. He viewed the library as his masterpiece. Talladega students furnished much of the labor, though in a few instances, whites worked alongside blacks.