|Train Station | 1935|
Oil on Cardboard | 8 in. x 14 in.
The Art Institute of Chicago
Walter Ellison’s Train Station depicts white and black travelers departing from a central terminal, bound for different cities. The composition reflects the social values of the time, which prevented members of the two races from mixing. On the left, white passengers board trains for vacations in the South, while on the right, African American passengers head for trains going to northern cities such as Chicago and Detroit. In those cities, black travelers hoped to find better jobs and living conditions.
The sign reading "colored" above the platform doorway on the right emphasizes the degrading conditions that African Americans in the South faced at the time. In the center section, black porters aid white passengers, yet black travelers are not offered any help.
Ellison himself boarded a train heading north from Macon, Georgia, joining the more than six million blacks who left their rural southern homes after World War I and during the Great Migration. Ellison traveled to Chicago, the nation’s industrial center, where migrants could find potential jobs in meatpacking and at rail and steel mills. Although discrimination was inescapable, the city offered acceptable schools, voting rights, and leisure activities. Once in Chicago, Ellison studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. During the 1940s, he was active in the South Side Community Art Center, which was sponsored by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and the Federal Art Project.
Source: The Art Institute of Chicago