Black On Campus
Higher Education and the African American Experience

(Not) Wordless Wednesday: Remembering Ernie Barnes (1938 – 2009)

April 28th, 2009 by Ajuan Mance

“The Graduate” by Ernie Barnes (July 15, 1938 – April 27, 2009)

From Daily News Los Angeles:

Ernest Barnes Jr. was born in Durham, N.C., on July 15, 1938, during the Jim Crow era. As a child, he would accompany his mother, Fannie Mae Geer Barnes, to her place of work, where she oversaw a prominent attorney’s household staff at a home where he was allowed to peruse an extensive collection of art books. It was then that his love of art began.

As a junior high school student, Barnes was overweight and introverted, spending time drawing in a notebook while hiding from the bullies who constantly taunted him, Rodriguez said.

But a sympathetic teacher put him on a weightlifting program, which enabled him to excel in both football and track and field once he got to high school. When he graduated, he was awarded 26 college scholarships.

Because of segregation, he could not consider the nearby University of North Carolina or Duke University, so he attended North Carolina College — now NC Central University — on a football scholarship and majored in art.

He was drafted in 1959 by the Washington Redskins, who, on discovering he was black, traded him to the then-world champion Baltimore Colts, according to Rodriguez. He later became an offensive lineman for the San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos.

In 1965, New York Jets owner Sonny Werblin recognized Barnes’ potential as an artist and paid him his salary of $13,500 for one season but freed him to devote himself exclusively to painting, according to Rodriguez.

One year later, Barnes made his debut in a critically acclaimed solo exhibition at Grand Central Art Galleries in Manhattan and officially retired from football.

Ernie Barnes’s most famous painting is “Sugar Shack,” which appeared on the cover of the 1976 Marvin Gaye album I Want You, and during the closing credits of the television series Good Times. He was appointed Official Artist of the XXIII Olympiad at Los Angeles in 1984. In 1995 Ernie Barnes published his autobiograhy, From Pads to Palette, a wonderful hardcover volume, richly illustrated with his work.

Barnes is survived by his wife, Bernie, his brother, two sons, and three daughters. Ernie Barnes was 70 years old.

Posted by Ajuan Mance 

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Posted in African Americans, Black History, Current Events, Ernie Barnes, race

2 Responses

  1. Villager

    Happy WW! I am very sad to learn about the death of this artistic legend. I recall his Marvin Gaye album cover and his unique portrayal of Black people. This is very sad news indeed…

    I invite your blog readers to get loose for the Kentucky Derby

    peace, Villager

  2. Stephen Bess

    This reminds me that my memories and images of my youth are slowly but surely dying. It’s not sad as much as it makes me want to write and record more. Thanks for this.

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