For the past several decades, Kalamazoo resident and nonagenarian Murphy Darden has indulged his passion for teaching others about histories which have long been ignored in classrooms and in public discourse. He has accomplished this through the amassment of endless artifacts, images and historic documents chronicling the achievements of African Americans. From America’s Black cowboys and astronauts to its first female millionaire, his collections also recount local events, individuals and landmarks that would otherwise have been lost to time.
However, not all history can be adequately represented through the artifacts which bear witness to events. Sometimes, the richest and most complicated stories are better interpreted through artistic expression. It was in these situations, where parts of the story were missing, that Darden created hundreds of artworks to fill in the gaps.
Many of the local people, places and events portrayed here are scarcely documented elsewhere. The artist hopes future generations will understand the important contributions of African Americans to the history of Kalamazoo.
The destruction of the home deeply affected Darden, who revered the family and the structure that stood as evidence of their accomplishments. The Jim Crow practice of burning black churches, homes, crosses and entire communities is well known to the artist.
Martin Luther King, Jr., led civil disobedience against the businesses in downtown Birmingham in April 1963 and was subsequently put in jail. From his cell, King wrote a letter explaining why, an “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” It was a phrase that he would repeat many times, and it became one of the key rallying statements of the Civil Rights Movement.
Some images in this gallery depict violent crimes against African Americans and may not be suitable for some viewers.
He practiced bulldogging by springing from his horse, wrestling the steer to the ground, then biting and holding the steer’s lip until it became subdued. He became known as “Dusky Demon” after the feat. He died in 1932, eleven days after being struck in the chest and head by a horse. In 1971, he was the first African American inducted into the National Rodeo Hall of Fame.
Darden discusses his artworks and the Kalamazoo Vegetable and Parchment Company, the Bombardiers Marching Band and the Pacific Inn Club.
Darden talks about his artworks related to Jim Crow, the impact of slavery and the Civil Rights Movement.