Known as the “Father of African American Arts,” Aaron Douglas was born in Topeka, Kansas, and developed an interest in drawing and painting at an early age. He studied at the University of Nebraska and in 1925 moved to New York City, settling in the African American neighborhood of Harlem. He almost immediately became involved in the Harlem Renaissance, a cultural movement of the 1920s that emphasized African American artists, writers, and performers. Douglas began creating magazine illustrations and developed a modernist style that incorporated African and Egyptian design elements. Among his most important early work were his murals at the 135th Street Branch of the New York Public Library.
In 1939 he moved to Nashville, Tennessee, and founded the Art Department at Fisk University, teaching there for nearly 30 years. In his art Douglas explored and celebrated the lives and history of people of color. In doing so he powerfully depicted an emerging Black American individuality.