ROMARE BEARDEN BIRTH PLACE - 401 S. GRAHAM STREET
401 S Graham Street is where the home of the paternal grandparents of Romare Bearden once stood and where the artist was born in 1911. The neighborhood, called the Third Ward, was one of four wards or sections that radiated from the city’s epicenter at the intersection of Trade and Tryon Streets when Charlotte was first developed. The Third Ward is adjacent to the Second Ward which was where the historic Brooklyn neighborhood, a once bustling center of the black community, was located. Historic Brooklyn and most of the homes and businesses in the Third Ward including the Bearden homeplace were razed in the 1960’s to make way for Charlotte’s urban development. When Bearden was a boy, he visited his grandparents at their Charlotte home during the summers and those experiences made a significant impression on the artist and influenced his art.
Backstory and Context
Romare Bearden was born on 401 S. Graham Street in Charlotte NC to Richard Howard and Bessye Bearden, a middle-class African American couple. Both of his grandparents were property owners and both his parents were college graduates. Due largely to the repressive culture in the South where Jim Crow laws were in full force, the young family relocated to Harlem in 1914. During his youth, Bearden made frequent trips back to Charlotte to visit his grandparents. The contrasting lifestyle of the traditional, rural family setting of Charlotte with the fast-paced urban NYC was a point of fascination for Bearden. He valued both and found inspiration from the two “places” and both are prevalent subject themes in many of his works.
In addition to place, family is a frequent theme in Bearden’s art. A Charlotte collector who owns “Mother and Child” remarks, “You can almost see the protection, you can see the closeness being exhibited on that canvas.” In the South that Bearden encountered on visits to his grandparents,” he got a chance to see some things that probably a lot of us did not see. We’re getting his ideas and experiences: I can identify with that.”
When Bearden visited Charlotte in his later years and witnessed that his childhood neighborhood had been demolished, he was saddened. Appropriately, the public park in Charlotte’s Third Ward is named for Bearden.
Diamond, P. L., & Pinder, K. N. (2020). The incredible joy of collecting African American art: My journey from Frog Town, South Carolina to the National Gallery. Charlotte, NC: AK Classics Publishing
(n.d.). Home. Retrieved December 16, 2020, from https://beardenfoundation.org/