“I Am Still A Man”
Tomisha Lovely Allen
Oil on Canvas | 36″ x 48″ | $3,200
“I Am Still A Man” has positively challenged my ability to communicate my opinions on social issues artistically. My opportunity to create is a gift from God that I don’t take lightly. I understand the privilege and responsibility to use my authentic voice without violating my values. I have always seen my work as an opportunity to encourage viewers to connect with the humanity of other people, who express the same types of emotion as themselves.
Having the opportunity to participate in the “Momentum” Exhibition helped me dig deeper than just connecting people to humanity but also communicate in my work my perspective of the injustices I continue to see against black people.
In this work, one sees in the foreground a man wearing a cut off T-shirt that states “I Am A Man.” The background is composed of a crowd of black men adorned in what today would be considered their “Sunday’s Best,” standing in protest holding signs stating “I Am A Man” as well. Further in the distance one can see a sign from the Lorraine Motel which is located in Memphis, TN. The Marque states “I Have A Dream-MLK.” The original photo selected in collaboration with this painting is a historic civil rights photo from 1968 of a young man wearing a black suit. He is holding a sign stating the same sentiment, “I Am A Man.” His expression is stern and his stance is unwavering.
The gentleman in the photo was one of many participants in the sanitation worker’s strike in Memphis, TN from February 1968 to April, 1968. These men had become fed up with their mistreatment, poor and unsafe working conditions and were seeking better pay. They were moved to strike after 2 of their coworkers were crushed and killed by a garbage truck compactor while taking cover from a rain storm. On April 3 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. spoke his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech while on his second visit to support the workers and was murdered the following day at the Lorraine Motel.
The men in the background of the painting are referenced from other photos from the sanitation strike. They represent providers, fathers and husbands, some are son’s caring for elderly parents addressing a basic human right, to be seen and treated as a man. This sentiment was not new to the civil rights protesters of the 1960’s, but has been a fight since the beginning of their enslavement and kidnapping 400 years ago. The privilege of being treated as a man, better yet a HUMAN, was stripped from them by another people who decided that a black man is not human but subhuman; and when it benefited them 3/5’s a man.
Every enslaved man who married a woman and had children did not have the rights of a man to protect, provide for, correct and care for his family. He was not a man, but property and so was his family. An enslaved man was considered wrong to raise his hand or fist to protect his wife, children and even himself from rape, abuse, separation, murder and neglect. For too many years to count, black men were not permitted to be a man even though to their core they knew they were.
Fast forward to the 1960’s, nearly 100 years since the ending of slavery, there is still the same fight but different rights. Black people are emboldened to fight for the right to vote without Jim Crow barrier’s and threat of life, the opportunity of better jobs, equal education, protection under law by the police and from the police. They wanted simple pleasures most took for granted such as; the opportunity spend their wages at a diner or department store of their choice, a seat on the bus to rest their tired overworked feet and own a businesses that would not be burned down by the white community. Many people were beaten, placed in jail cells and killed in that fight and it has not ended.
Today, approximately 60 years of change since the civil rights protests of the 1960’s the fight of a black man still continues for the right to be seen and treated as a MAN. The gentlemen in the foreground of the painting represents that fight and plea. He has been passed the torch to declare the Humanity of every black man, woman and child. The appearance of the fight may look different but the intent remains the same. In the 1960’s people carried signs, and wore their best to represent their communities.
Today you can find the protest on clothing, as signs in yards and in jewelry. Instead of showing up in suits, dresses and dress shoes they show up in all black attire, and black masks in solidarity. The protest is not only in cities but across the globe. People standing together in solidarity that “BLACK LIVES MATTER” and a black man is a man. Once man realizes that he is not a better man but equal man to all other men then we will begin to see change.