Arts

Willie Middlebrook's last cry of rage

willie-middlebrook-thesource.jpgFriend and artist J. Michael Walker recounts in a piece for the LA Times op-ed page what happened when he visited artist Willie Middlebrook in the hospital last month. Middlebrook, who died May 5, had suffered a stroke in his Inglewood studio. As he lay in the hospital bed, describing for Walker how his newest show should be hung at the Avenue 50 Gallery in Highland Park, the Trayvon Martin killing in Florida overwhelmed him. Sample:

From his bed, Willie recounted how Trayvon's killing had triggered a flood of memories — at once historical and personal — of race-related hatred and violence: Emmett Till, tortured and tossed into the Tallahatchie River; Laura Nelson and her son Lawrence, lynched off an Oklahoma bridge; Martin Luther King Jr. and Medgar Evers, assassinated; the four girls killed in a Birmingham church bombing; and most recently, young Kendrec McDade, shot and killed by police in Pasadena.

Willie choked up as he spoke and wailed, just wailed — long, mournful moans that caused us to worry he might bring on another stroke.

He connected this violence to the everyday racism he had encountered in his life, racism that extended even to his enviable role as a well-known artist. Invited to attend a showing of his work in the South a few years back, he was met at the airport by a representative of the arts center, who was visibly shocked to discover that the artist was a large black man with dreadlocks, and who then canceled his speaking engagements and interviews, explained there would be no reception, handed him his honorarium and told him to enjoy the rest of his stay at the hotel, no hard feelings.

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