Norman Rockwell Painting Sends Rare White House Message on Race

Josh Gerstein, Politico, August 24, 2011

{snip}

Norman Rockwell’s “The Problem We All Live With,” installed in the White House last month, shows U.S. marshals escorting Ruby Bridges, a 6-year-old African-American girl, into a New Orleans elementary school in 1960 as court-ordered integration met with an angry and defiant response from the white community.

The thrust of the painting is not subtle. America’s vilest racial epithet appears in letters several inches high at the top of the canvas. To the left side, the letters “KKK” are plainly visible. The crowds, mostly women who gathered daily to taunt Bridges as she went to a largely empty school, are not shown in the picture. But the racist graffiti and a splattered tomato convey the hostile atmosphere.

Despite the historic nature of his election, Obama has rarely dwelt on racial issues. His speech Sunday dedicating a memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. near the National Mall will be an exception to the pattern, a rare public embrace of the civil rights movement.

His choice of the Rockwell painting was a more private statement. Obama has never mentioned it in a speech or public event. And while White House aides confirmed that Obama approved bringing it to the West Wing, they declined to discuss how the decision was made or why.

{snip}

Urban League President Marc Morial, who viewed the painting during a recent visit to see the president, said Rockwell’s use of the racial slur conveys the hostility Bridges faced.

“It gives people an opportunity to see that she wasn’t walking to Sunday school and, in fact, she faced the jeers, she faced the hate,” Morial said.

{snip}

Still, at 3 feet high and nearly 5 feet wide, the painting is by far the most striking civil rights-related art in the White House. Rockwell painted the image in 1963, and it appeared on the cover of Look magazine in January 1964. It will remain about 20 feet from the Oval Office, in a well-trafficked hallway just outside the Cabinet Room, until it goes back on tour in October.

{snip}

Rockwell.jpg

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  • Bandmo

    OK, fine, now show the results of that right next to it, the newspaper headlines and accounts from the Knoxville, Wichita, ETC, murders.

  • OBSERVER

    Obama is doing what he should be doing.

    Defending and helping HIS PEOPLE.

  • THE MAN

    Who guards our children in these public schools as our children become the minorities. No National Guard no U.S. Marshals ! How much are the politicians willing to spend to protect white children? The government created these schools with no thought of safety ! What do we do if we can’t afford private schools ? Just move and run away ! Thanks to all you politicians who created these schools and I bet your children are in safe schools. What can we do, take an example from the civil rights era march and demand action by our leaders.

  • sbuffalonative

    There is a quote I’ve never been able to track down. It may be that I remembered it incorrectly but if so, I believe I improved upon it. If anyone knows the original source, please let me know.

    Here is the quote:

    A novel is a lie masquerading as the truth

    I often think To Kill A Mockingbird is a perfect example. The recent novel and now film, The Help, seems to fit the definition as well.

    I have long since given up watching mainstream movies as they are little more than overt or covert vehicles for racial propaganda.

    When the Greeks gave us art, they gave us idealized beauty as truth. Today, art isn’t considered art unless it has a ‘message’.

    This painting in the White House is yet another example of keeping hate alive; scratching a scab so that it never heals; a subliminal message implanted in the corner of the mind for all who walk by.

  • GetBackJack

    All you ever hear from blacks is how capable they are. We’ve even heard how they’ve built this country from the ground up and almost everything successful that has come out of it. Yet, even today, they are incapable of doing anything of substance on their own. So, my response to this portrait is how come her parents insisted she attend a school where she wasn’t wanted? If the schools were separate but unequal, why didn’t blacks do something about it themselves? Create school that were the envy of everyone! They simply can’t! Blacks are the unwelcome guests wherever they go. And, if they had as much pride as they claim they do, they’d stay home and make their own castle for a change.

  • Rhialto

    I wonder how many of the Americans who looked at that mag cover with smug contentment, ever imagined that within 10 years, the empowered SCOTUS would order their children to be “desegregated” by Federal force. Recently, the liberals seem to be reviving the 1950’s integration victories. Perhaps it’s nostalgia for the liberal’s only widely acknowleged success. In 1950, most northern and many southern whites were opposed to racially segregated public schools. They never imagined it would lead to liberal control of schools.

  • ARreader

    Obama and his wife are small insecure people filled with self hate and hate for whites. Their whole lives are dedicated to getting even with the white man. That is pitiful and sad. They are typical of leftists. The more i learn about them the more I am convinced they are mentally ill.

  • Anonymous

    People like Norman Rockwell would they still be honest about the negative effects of so called civil rights 50 years later? He was brainwashed into believing that blacks were victims as shown by painting a white dress on a little girl to denote innocence and helplessness.

  • Anonymous

    Norman Rockwell is one of the greatest American painters who ever lived. Those who dominate the art world today look down their collective noses at his work–most likely because he captured the beauty in the every day life of your average White American.

    It is true, though, that in the last part of his life, he did render some paintings with overtly political and liberal themes–this painting being the most famous. Another one shows two black children moving into an all-White neighborhood.

    I’ve always found these “social issue” paintings of Rockwell to be the most distasteful. He uses his creative genius to capture immediate pathos for a point of view that greatly reduces complex social issues–like forced integration–into something mundane like a racial slur on a wall.

    Would he have ever done a painting of a White kid getting beaten up by two Black kids in one of the formerly White neighborhoods that he depicted so beautifully and innocently earlier in his career? Hardly–which is why great artists should stay out of politics.

  • Peejay in Frisco

    If Norman Rockwell wanted to paint an accuratwe picture about school integration, than it should have been something showing a black child hitting a white child.

  • Schmataskopf

    Since I’m old, I remember VERY well what it was like in the 1960’s. Life in the South was scary for black AND white. I hate how things have evolved, and I am not willing to associate with ghetto blacks. But, if us Southerners had had the foresight to make “separate but equal” actually EQUAL, then things might have not taken the evil turn that they have. I believe segregation is the natural way humans live – and if we’d have taken the hatred out of the equation, perhaps we’d still be living with our own kind without any stigma attached.

  • Anonymous

    Norman Rockwell’s “The Problem We All Live With,” installed in the White House last month, shows U.S. marshals escorting Ruby Bridges…

    A better title might have been “The Problem That Won’t Go Away.” (And I say that as someone who vigorously defends Norman Rockwell from hostile Modern Art snobs who dismiss this master draughtsman’s work as obsolete and reactionary.)

    As for that little black girl “Ruby Bridges” being escorted into the white school, well, in the intervening five decades since this piece was painted, the real-world track-record of desegregated education has not been impressive. Tragically, what we’ve seen in our schools since 1960 rather suggests that the kind of fears expressed back then by those “racists” who were OPPOSED to integration, were justified!

    Viewed in this way, that cute little six-year-old in the neatly-ironed white dress may not be as innocent or as blameless or as victimized as (the eternally optimistic) Rockwell makes her out to be. The record left behind by a half-century of letting the “Ruby Bridges” of America into white schools has NOT resulted in what any white person today could honestly call a success. The experiement has been bad for whites, without doing much for blacks either.

    You might even say, the trouble with “Ruby Bridges” is that they lead to “Ruby Ridges”:

    http://tinyurl.com/2qj2gh

  • CDE

    Funny, since Rockwell is heavily criticized by the avant-garde artsy types for having depicted a homogeneous white America in his paintings. I get a Normal Rockwell calander every year and look at the pictures with a sense of longing and sadness as I see what we once were and what we have become.

  • Anonymous

    Hindsight is 20/20. Give old Norman a break. Would YOU have taunted the little black girl back then, not knowing the future?

  • Mrs. Victoria

    This painting is merely a piece of commercial propaganda. Like the Kennedys, Rockwell was a typical NIMBY who didn’t mind commenting negatively on the reaction of Southerners to federal infringements on their rights because no place in New England at that time was overrun with blacks. He didn’t even bother to go south to capture his “realistic” scene. He used various black girls as models and the rest was inspired by newspaper photos. The word “we” appears in the title to take on White guilt for all White people. From what I understand, the background “writing on the wall” is purely fictional.

    Being a typical commercial artist, Rockwell was just out to follow a new trend set by NIMBY politicians and extremists. Following popular trends tends to pay handsomely. “We” didn’t live with any such problem until schools were integrated. If Rockwell were alive today and painted a scene of an urban school with its chaotic atmosphere, the title could be the same.

  • Philly Gal

    Can some talented artist please update this painting? Let’s show a defenseless asian pupil being escorted by Philadelphia police into South Philly High, where black classmates throw bricks at their heads and threaten them with baseball bats. The only change to the “N****r” epithet on the painting’s wall would be “N***as Rule” – which I actually saw scrawled on a wall at Southern.

  • LOUDMOUTH57

    Shouldn’t the graffiti on the wall be cleaned up to be more politically correct? Shouldn’t that word be replaced with N-Word as to not be so offensive? I guess when that word suits a political end it’s use is not only OK but required. Showing that word in the painting gets the message across and really rubs it in hard. Blacks always complain about the police using to much force.Rockwell should have painted artwork depicting the U.S. military pointing fixed bayonets at white protesters.Those white protesters opposed forced integration in the schools at approximately the same time Rockwell painted that masterpiece shown in this article.

  • anonymous

    Schmataskopf wrote at 7:34 PM on August 24:

    Since I’m old, I remember VERY well what it was like in the 1960’s. Life in the South was scary for black AND white. I hate how things have evolved, and I am not willing to associate with ghetto blacks. But, if us Southerners had had the foresight to make “separate but equal” actually EQUAL, then things might have not taken the evil turn that they have. I believe segregation is the natural way humans live – and if we’d have taken the hatred out of the equation, perhaps we’d still be living with our own kind without any stigma attached.

    ———————————————————

    I think you’re wrong and here’s why:

    southern whites knew that blacks are unredeemable….. you and yours must stay away …. the insidious creeping blackness never stops and what you give them is never enough.

    equal but seperate, would never work because blacks are unable to perform upkeep and maintenance unless monitored and guided by someone else…….

    your throwing hatred onto the white race only shows you don’t really know what you’re talking about

  • OBSERVER

    Rockwell, most likely, never lived near any Blacks.

    Did this white race traitor have any children? Did his children attend school with his little dahlings?

    It is white race-traitor fools like Rockwell who have destroyed their own country, their own race, their own children with their idiotic notions of the world.

    His paintings, like him, were simplistic, cheap and sugar-sweet junk. I can paint his style all day long, but I don’t want cerebral diabetes.

  • (AWG) Average White Guy

    Can you say, “propaganda”? “Mind manipulation”? “Mental distraction”? “Denial”?

    (Next thing you know they’ll be making a statue of Rosa Parks instead of caring for the White victims of black violence on public transit.)

    Those who endured violent black classmates understand the grand delusion.

  • Middle American Jew

    Had Rockwell lived to see the disaster brought about by liberals regarding race he would have to add a fifth painting to his “Four Freedoms.”

    It would be titled “Freedom From Blacks.”

  • Anonymous

    I have always hated those and other pro black paintings of Rockwell’s. Liberals hate him. Good. Any admiration I might have had for Rockwell’s paintings disappears when ever I look at those anti White racist paintings.

  • Anonymous

    “Obama and his wife are small insecure people filled with self hate and hate for whites. Their whole lives are dedicated to getting even with the white man. That is pitiful and sad. They are typical of leftists. The more i learn about them the more I am convinced they are mentally ill”.

    Obama is above that actually. You sound more like you’re describing the typical white liberal

  • Tim in Indiana

    I’ve never been a huge fan of Norman Rockwell’s posed and stilted painting style, and as others have noted, he painted whites exclusively for the great bulk of his career, until he was told in so many words that he was no longer allowed to do so. So I guess, since he painted nothing but whites without complaint, he was a “racist” for the vast bulk of his career as well. He became an “anti-racist” only because it was the politically expedient thing to do.

  • Jeddermann.

    “Perhaps it’s nostalgia for the liberal’s only widely acknowleged success.”

    Such a success that integrating the schoo’s only meant that in a few years those schoo’s became 100 % segregated and not only the schoo’ but the entire schoo’ system itself. For a whole lot of reasons.

    And attempt to make “better” only succeeded in making things a LOT worse.

  • Ben

    They say they don’t use violence.

    And yet had to send military to impose integration from the get go.

  • Ben

    @ 5

    If they did that people would naturally flock.

    However the forced integration is a “racist” notion to begin with.

    The idea that African American students can only do well when integrated into a school that is majority Caucasians.

  • Anonymous

    “Norman Rockwell Painting Sends Rare White House Message on Race”

    So the conversation on race consists of hanging a painting on the wall?

  • flyingtiger

    The modern version would have US marshalls escorting white kids to school. Rockwell had another painting showing a black family moving in. I was never sure if Rockwell believed this or he was just doing what his editors wanted.

    I love his paintings, especially the WW II ones.

  • Laager

    @ No7

    You make an interesting point.

    What is really intriguing is that Obama is not black.

    His mother was white and that therefore makes him 50% white.

    In the USA you describe this ethnicity as Mulatto; in Britain they use the term mixed-race and in South Africa he would be known as Coloured.

    If Obama really wants to be ethnic in his policies should he not be focussing on his own Mulatto kind?

  • Anonymous

    “Fiction is the truth inside the lie.”

    — Stephen King

  • Detroit WASP

    They should hang a painting of my poor dad paying the tuition at the private school he had to send his kids to. Since we lived in Detroit and they started forced busing, I had to be sent to a private school to get a decent education… and save my life.

    Oh, we actually tired going to school in a mostly black school for ONE sememster. That was an education in itself.

    Yeah, hang a painting of that. Next to one of the Obama girls going to a private school because blacks ruined the public schools in DC. How ironic.

  • Anonymous

    Interesting that “the problem we all live with” has become blacks themselves, in our schools and elsewhere.