In 1972, the black artist and writer Romare Bearden traveled from his home in New York to spend ten days in the capital of counterculture in Berkeley, California. He visited on an official commission from the city of Berkeley to create a new artwork for its City Council Chambers. The result was the monumental work BerkeleyThe City and its People, which hung for decades until extensive seismic trouble plaguing City Hall forced its removal and relocation to a storage facility. Berkeley has changed dramatically since Bearden’s visit. The percentage of Berkeley’s black population has dropped from almost 25 percent in 1970 to less than 10 percent in 2010. Perhaps this demographic shift, coupled with the full mural’s removal from public view, has made it difficult to remember that Bearden’s Berkeley originated in a moment of racially charged civic conflict. Bearden’s Berkeley envisions how the California city is built from and on shifting histories of encounter and settlement by many groups with different backgrounds, interests, and beliefs, all needed to work together to build a better future.

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