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Darryl Cowherd

Blackstone, Woodlawn/Chicago

Darryl Cowherd. Blackstone, Woodlawn/Chicago, 1968. Through prior gifts of the Harold and Esther Edgerton Family Foundation and an anonymous donor.

Date of birth

A key figure in Chicago’s Black Arts Movement, Darryl Cowherd has enjoyed an extensive career ranging from photojournalism to broadcast television. At the age of 20, frustrated with work and school, Cowherd followed the advice of his mentor, Chicago-based photographer Robert Earl Wilson, who encouraged him to travel and photograph abroad. Cowherd had initially studied to become a doctor and then worked for the postal service, but neither role proved a lasting fit. After nearly four years in Europe, during which Cowherd honed his photography skills, he returned to Chicago in 1964 and began taking freelance photography assignments while working at a film processing lab. His return to Chicago coincided with the emergence of the Chicago Freedom Movement (1965–67) and the Black Arts Movement (most active in the years 1965–76). An active participant in both movements, Cowherd frequently photographed the activities surrounding them as they grew and gained momentum.

Cowherd was a founding member of the Organization of Black American Culture (OBAC), a collective that brought together black artists, writers, intellectuals, and activists on Chicago’s South Side. He participated in OBAC’s first collaborative public artwork, the Wall of Respect, an outdoor mural located at 43rd Street and Langley Avenue in the South Side neighborhood of Bronzeville that was completed in 1967 and destroyed in 1971. Created by 21 collaborating artists, the mural featured groupings of black heroes and heroines across seven sections. Cowherd contributed Amiri Baraka at Dunbar High School (1967)—a portrait of writer and activist LeRoi Jones, later known as Amiri Baraka—to the Wall’s literature section, the only surviving portion of the mural. Cowherd documented the mural’s creation as well as the gatherings, performances, and political events that regularly took place in front of it until its destruction in 1971. Later in his career, Cowherd relocated to Washington, D.C., and became a tenured broadcast news writer and editor. 

Listen to Cowherd speak about the Wall of Respect.

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