How Posters Helped Shape America and Change the World
One enthusiast's collection, on exhibit at the Oakland Museum of California, offers a sweeping look at grass-roots movements since the 1960s
- By Jeff Greenwald
- Smithsonian.com, May 23, 2012
(Frank Rowe, Democratize Yellow Cab, Circa 1953. Collection of the Oakland Museum of California, All Of Us Or None Archive. Fractional and promised gift of The Rossman Family)
“Between 1932 and 1945,” says All of Us or None curator Lincoln Cushing, “posters were a lively part of the American vernacular.” Thousands were produced under the Federal Art Project, mainly to support the arts, national parks and sciences; many were created to support the war effort. Between 1945 and 1965, however, the fever pitch of McCarthyism and the prying reach of the FBI stifled this form of free speech. One striking exception was this 1953 anti-discrimination poster by Frank Rowe. Rowe, an art teacher and World War II veteran, lost his job in 1950 for refusing to sign a loyalty oath when applying for a job at San Francisco State College. Blacklisted from teaching for 19 years, he turned his graphics skills to the social justice movement. This watershed poster expresses outrage at the fact that—even in a “progressive” city like San Francisco—African-Americans were not allowed to drive Yellow Cab taxis.