The Murals of Obama’s First Term

Collected images.
Sept. 4 2012 6:16 PM

The Murals of Obama’s First Term

Sometimes the president is a preacher; sometimes he looks Latino.

"We love Obama." Jumpstart Learning Center, West Chicago Ave., at Birwood St., Detroit, 2012.
"We love Obama" on the wall of Jumpstart Learning Center.

Photo by Camilo Vergara.

On the wall of the Jumpstart Learning Center in Detroit, President Obama is depicted as a preacher addressing a crowd of tiny people from behind a lectern.

“We like Obama around here,” says the center’s director, Ms. Lockhard, who commissioned the painting from a neighbor for $150 during the first year of Obama’s presidency. When I commented that Detroit doesn’t look any better now than it did three years ago, Ms. Lockhard replied that her immediate neighborhood has improved.

Since Obama first took office in 2009, murals of his likeness have been appearing on the walls of fast food restaurants, barbershops, storefront churches, and other inner-city businesses across the U.S. The president is frequently pictured alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. A South Los Angeles resident explained this choice to me: “Rosa Parks sat so Martin Luther King could walk. Martin Luther King walked so Obama could run. Obama ran so we can all fly.” A large mural at Master Burger in South L.A. suggests that Barack Obama has become president with the help of Marcus Garvey, the Tuskegee Airmen, Sojourner Truth, and other members of the black pantheon.

Urban murals typically show Obama wearing a tie and smiling. Often he has the up-tilted face and earnest demeanor of the famous “Hope” campaign poster: a statesman reflecting on issues of global significance.

Obama Murals

When painted by African-American artists, Obama’s tie is often red, his jacket blue, and his shirt white, this combination echoing the American flag that is often also incorporated. When Obama is depicted by Latino artists, on the other hand, he generally has Latino looks and lacks red-white-and-blue dress.

Lance Estos Bradley is proud of the mural of Obama he painted in an empty lot in Central Harlem for the Tabernacle of Deliverance.

"I did it lifelike," he told me. "I picked the photograph myself in the Internet. It reflects a moment in time when a black man was elected president. I didn't think it would happen in my lifetime, and it may never happen again." The slogan written in big letters in the mural, “Yes We Can,” feels dated in 2012.

The murals are signs of trust in the president, but in some cases the paint is beginning to chip away.



Don’t Worry, Obama Isn’t Sending U.S. Troops to Fight ISIS

But the next president might. 

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.

How Much Should You Loathe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Here are the facts.

Altered State

The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender

What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?

Surprise! The Women Hired to Fix the NFL Think the NFL Is Just Great.

You Shouldn’t Spank Anyone but Your Consensual Sex Partner

Sept. 17 2014 5:10 PM The Most Awkward Scenario in Which a Man Can Hold a Door for a Woman
  News & Politics
Altered State
Sept. 17 2014 11:51 PM The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
Sept. 17 2014 6:53 PM LGBTQ Luminaries Honored With MacArthur “Genius” Fellowships
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 17 2014 6:14 PM Today in Gender Gaps: Biking
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 8:25 PM A New Song and Music Video From Angel Olsen, Indie’s Next Big Thing
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 9:00 PM Amazon Is Now a Gadget Company
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 17 2014 11:48 PM Spanking Is Great for Sex Which is why it’s grotesque for parenting.
Sports Nut
Sept. 17 2014 3:51 PM NFL Jerk Watch: Roger Goodell How much should you loathe the pro football commissioner?