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On June 23 of 1962 Delilah W. Pierce and a group of business owners, educators, and clergy left for an organized trip outside of America. This trip took them to Holland, France, Italy, and Greece. After their Europe tour the group traveled to Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Jerusalem, and a multi-country tour of Africa. Delilah’s sister Mediel Hoskins, a housewife and married to New York City chef Jack Hoskins, also made the trip.
During this time Delilah had also earned the Agnes Meyer Fellowship to travel and study Africa, Europe and the Middle East. The proof of how Delilah’s travels impacted her art work can be seen in a few pieces from the Delilah W. Pierce Collection, for example Sudanese Women.
Delilah’s trip was interesting for many reasons. First, Blacks, women, and labor were fighting for equality and worker rights in America. Second, Ethiopia had just begun a civil war with Eritrea. Eritrea had become a part of Ethiopia after World War II when both were liberated from Italian occupation. The Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF), who never accepted the merging of the two, starting gaining support from Christians. Christians in Eritrea were upper class and highly educated. Ethiopia then revoked Eritrea’s autonomy sparking the Ethiopian Civil War (Also known as the Eritrean War of Independence) in 1961.
Delilah W. Pierce and her travel cohorts wanted to meet with Emperor Haile Selassie who was known internationally as a fierce advocate for Africa’s independence from western rule. Yet, he was not a supporter of Eritrea’s fight for independence from Ethiopia and used force to maintain Ethiopia’s control. When the unofficial delegation went to his palace to meet with him, they learned that Emperor Selassie went on safari in northern Ethiopia.
President Harry Truman was the President of the United States from 1945 to 1953, a time of grand expectations in post WWII America. He succeeded President Franklin D. Roosevelt after he died. President Truman had big shoes to fill after President Roosevelt’s historic New Deal. One of those shoes to fill was America’s changing culture and an increased sense of expectations. Some of those expectations included an increase in funding for public education. Many education advocates at the time felt as if public education needed increased funding in order to prepare all Americans for post WWII life. Though President Truman supported President Roosevelt’s New Deal, during his presidency he was a fiscal conservative who questioned federal involvement in state education and thought that his presidency was not a time for “experiments.” According to President Truman:
When I say I am opposed to Federal control of the schools, I mean I am opposed to control by any officer or department of the Federal Government, whether it be the United States Office of Education, the Federal Security Agency, or any other bureau or official. I, therefore, do not understand how the relationship between any of these offices or agencies is of any relevance to the problem of keeping the schools of America free of Federal control. (Harry S. Truman Library & Museum).
Delilah W. Pierce was the chairman of public affairs for the National Sorority of Phi Delta Kappa at the time and is on record, according to the National Education Association of the United States, as asking the 81st Congress to pass an adequate federal-aid-to-education bill. Delilah W. Pierce and Phi Delta Kappa:
[F]avored federal aid to education under state and local control, to assist the states in…equalizing educational opportunity for all the youth of our nation regardless of race or creed.
Learn more about: Today’s Education, Volume 39.
Delilah W. Pierce Participates In District of Columbia Appropriation Bill For 1941 Hearings Before The Subcommittee Of The Committee On Appropriations United States Senate
As a member of the Phi Delta Kappa Sorority, Delilah W. Pierce fought so that Washington, DC and all underserved school districts, including rural districts, could receive appropriate funding for public education.
Delilah W. Pierce hosted a planning meeting of the Phi Delta Kappa sorority at her home in the Washington, DC Gold Coast – A nickname for the community of Washington, DC’s African American elite. At the time, the president was Mr. Olivia Henry, educator and fierce advocate for African American young people understanding the importance of education.
Click to view: Mrs. Henry Aids Conclave Plans.
Delilah W. Pierce Helped Address Gender & Racial Inequality In Forever Free: Art By African-American Women, 1862-1980 An Exhibition
Delilah W. Pierce not only helped to expand black identity perceptions during her life and career as an artist, curator, educator and advocate, she helped break down the vicious barriers of gender inequality within the visual arts community.
Author Susan Willand Worteck said in the introduction:
The role of black women in the development of the visual arts in America is a relatively new subject for research and museum exhibitions. Therefore, it was no small undertaking for Illinois State University to organize Forever Free, an exhibition of 118 works by forty-nine artists which features achievements in the visual arts by African-American women. The exhibition is a revelation and a challenge; because historians and critics until recently have overlooked art by women in general, art by black women has suffered a double bias. In response to this oversight, Forever Free is a historical overview of work in all media by black women artists from 1862 to 1980.
Forever Free, published by Feminist Studies, was also accompanied by an exhibition. In 1982 the exhibition was at the Indianapolis Museum of Art from January – February 15, 1982.
Delilah W. Pierce helped expand the Black Arts Movement with her figurative and abstract paintings. Her art helped express the diversity within the black aesthetic, during a time where African Americans were exploring the idea of what it meant to be “BLACK” and how that related to the larger mainstream American culture. This was also a time of women fighting for equality.
The Black Arts Movement is often connected with the protests of the 1960’s. What many forget is the groundswell of black publishing houses, magazines journals and art institutions during the time and how the Black Arts Movement led to the creation of many African American studies programs in universities outside of historically black institutions.
In 2009, the Mint Museum of Art published, along with Lois Mailou Jones Pierre-Noel Trust and Carla M. Hanzal (authors) a historical review of Lois Mailou Jones’ life and artistic career. The book is connected with a traveling exhibition. In the book Ms. Jones talks about the 1960’s and how artists like Delilah W. Pierce and poet Maya Angelou were “pioneers in introducing the movement among [their] students.” Click to learn how you can read: Loïs Mailou Jones: a life in vibrant color.
- Lois Mailou Jones: A Life in Vibrant Color at The Women’s Museum Dallas Art News
- Loïs Mailou Jones: A Life in Vibrant Color New York Public Library
On September 12, 1950 Delilah W. Pierce was featured in an article highlighting the achievements of a Washington, DC business called The Ethical Prescription Pharmacy. The article was entitled One Million Prescriptions Under Same Ownership Is Proud Record. According to the article she was the first and one-millionth customer of the business, which began in 1929 during the start of the Great Depression (1929-1939). This is significant because of the following:
• African Americans and women in America were fighting for equal rights and a fair shot at the American dream;
• Drug pharmacies were in the process of trying to do a better job of policing themselves and holding themselves accountable for unethical and (or) careless drug dispensary practices.
It goes without saying that the feature of an educated African American woman in Washington, DC during the early to mid 1900’s was an accomplishment by itself. However, Delilah W. Pierce – educator, artist, curator, and advocate, published in a newspaper with African American businessman, Dr. Lewis Terry, that praised him for serving 1 million customers was an even greater accomplishment – Especially when you think about the interesting history of druggist at the time.
For example, pharmacy in America from the 1800’s to the early 1900’s was thought of as a skilled trade. Pharmacy practitioners were trained as apprentices. According to historical records published on Wiki, prior to the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 America didn’t have higher education requirements or legislation protecting its citizens from the usage of “high-alcoholic content patent medicines, [and] soothing syrups for infants with opium derivatives…” Many pharmacies were both the wholesale manufacturer and distributors of often toxic products, while providing consultation to patients without having a medical degree. In a white paper published by Jones and Bartlett Publishers, entitled Evolution of the Profession and Medication Use Systems:
“Many of the patent medicines sold at the time were inefficacious [and] mislabeled.”
As a result, Elixir Sulfanilamide caused more than 100 people to die because of drug poisoning.
When Dr. Lewis Terry and Dr. Leo L. Williams opened The Ethical Prescription Pharmacy in 1929 during the depression they were solely focused on filling prescriptions. According to the Baltimore Afro-American, it was a “new type of business.” Additionally, they were licensed practitioners who graduated from medical school.
According to the article Dr. Terry Lewis gave Delilah W. Pierce an “especially fixed keepsake…in [a] gold leaf bottle.”
Read the article: One Million Prescriptions Under Same Ownership Is Proud Record, published in the Baltimore Afro American on September 12, 1950.
Learn more by reviewing the following related articles and research:
Author Helen Tierney published a cannon of female African American painters. In her anthology she covered the wider expressions of African American female artists. Delilah W. Pierce was included in the cannon. Ms. Tierney explored some of the core “emotions” of African American art: celebration, grief, anger, and pride. Check out Helen Tierney’s The Women’s Studies Encyclopedia.
Delilah W. Pierce dedicated her life to fighting for equal rights for women, equal education, and fairness for people of color. Her art expressed that notion. Author Robert Henkes created a cannon for African American women artists and their expressions.
From the pages of The Art of Black Women:
African American women artists have fought both racism and prejudice. Their works, remarkably varied in style, expression and medium, reflect the sensitivity and integrity that is, in part, a product of this struggle. The art of 24 African American women are examined: Lois Mailou Jones, Shirley Woodson, Howardena Pindell, Vivian Browne, Norma Morgan, Freida High W. Tesfagiorgis, Elizabeth Catlett, Jewel Simon, Faith Ringgold, Emma Amos, Robin Holder, Cynthia Hawkins, Camille Billops, Delilah Pierce, Yvonne Catchings, Gilda Snowden, Malkia Roberts, Ann Tanksley, Alma Woodsey Thomas, Clementine Hunter, Viola Burley Leak, Mary Reed Daniel, Adell Westbrook, and Nanette Carter. Their work is allied to various schools of art, from expressionism to realism.
Find out how you can read Robert Henkes book The Art of Black American Women: Works of Twenty-four Artists of The Twentieth Century