John Biggers made this half-scale drawing for a mural painting of the same title for the school library of George Washington Carver High School, the first African American high school in Morris County, Texas. Commissioned to commemorate the retirement of Carver High School principal P. Y. Gray, whose own master’s thesis provided the work’s title, the mural traces the history of education in rural northeastern Texas. Drawing upon the legacy of American social realist art of the Great Depression (1929–1939) and adapting the color palette and spatial organization used by Mexican muralists (such as Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and José Clemente Orozco), Biggers’s artistic language exemplifies the history and ideals of community in relation to civil rights in mid-twentieth-century America.
On the far left, a preacher addresses members of his congregation in a farmyard against a backdrop of laborers’ shanties; to its right is a view of the crowded conditions in the area’s earliest one-room schoolhouse; in the center, Principal Gray is at the apex of a busy scene of activity, including education and collective enterprise, such as quilt-making and harvesting. The new school building stands in the background. On the far right, buses bring students to school, suggesting the rallying function of the institution. In this work, Biggers locates the civic values of education within a broader context of African American communal life, proposing a harmonious model of strength and cooperation.