Back in the 70s, blacks were wearing bell-bottom jeans, rocking Afros with picks and raising their fists in unity. It was around the time that James Brownâ€™s â€œIâ€™m Black and Iâ€™m Proudâ€ record spun the airwaves and gave blacks a sense of empowerment. The Civil Rights Movement, led by prominent figures such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X, were viewed as breakthroughs in black leadership and achievement.
Black power was at its forefront, as African Americanâ€™s even began to wear medallion necklaces and charms revealing the faces of African kings and queens. At a time when not much was known about these kings and queens, a new collection of art began to emerge that educated people about African royalty.
The Great Kings and Queens of Africa collection, which now comprises of 30 works by 23 African American artists began to educate blacks on their royal ancestry. Commissioned by Anheuser-Busch in 1975 and researched by the late African history scholar, Dr. Henrik Clarke, the collection features paintings of great kings, queens, leaders and rulers throughout African history.
Art pioneer Barbara Higgins Bond, the first artist to be chosen for the project, says that to her Africa is the cradle of civilization.
â€œA lot of the knowledge and strength that African Americans have, we got it from our forefathers,â€ said Higgins Bond.Â â€œThis series of paintings just serves to remind us where we came from and who we came from.â€
Higgins Bond has three paintings as part of The Great Kings and Queens of Africa collection: Akhenaton Pharaoh of Egypt (1375-1358 BC), Mansa Kankan Musa King of Mali (1306-1337) and Yaa Asandtew Queen of Ghana (1863-1923).
More than 43 million people at prominent venues such as the United Nations, Capitol Hill, the Martin Luther King Library and the Kennedy Center have viewed the original artwork. The paintings currently hang in colleges and universities around the country as Anheuser-Bush has recently donated the artwork to the United Negro College Fund.
As part of the donation, Anheuser-Busch presented 30 high-achieving students with $2,500 scholarships.
â€œAll of the kings and queens that we painted showed extreme leadership qualities â€“ and now we have a black president,â€ said Higgins Bond.Â â€œItâ€™s showing the young people that if they can combine the strength and leadership qualities of the kings and queens that we painted â€“ with the opportunities that we have today â€“ then the skyâ€™s the limit to where they can go from here.â€
Celebrated Detroit artist Ann Marshall has a painting in the collection entitled, â€œCleopatra VII Queen of Egypt (69-30 BC)â€. Cleopatra VII became queen at age 17 and summoned great Roman leaders Julius Caesar and Mark Antony to assist her in elevating Egypt to world supremacy.
All of the artwork is available for public viewing via Internet on the Anheuser-Busch website and a video showcasing the highlights of each king and queen is available on YouTube by searching, â€œGreat Kings and Queens of Africa.â€
Click here to view the Great Kings and Queens of Africa collection
Click here to watch the Great Kings and Queens of Africa documentary