Object of the Month

nine African American men praying in a halo of lightTitle: Scottsboro Lmtd., from the portfolio Scottsboro
Artist: Prentiss Taylor (1907-1991)
Nationality: American
Date: 1932
Medium: Lithograph
Credit: 1992.57

Prentiss Taylor began studying art at a young age at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in his hometown of Washington D.C. He later progressed to the Art Students League in New York City where he discovered his passion for lithography and became interested in the Harlem Renaissance. Taylor soon became one of the only white Americans to become active the movement, befriending and collaborating with writers Carl Van Vecthen and Langston Hughes.

Taylor’s illustration, Scottsboro Lmtd. originally accompanied Langston Hughes’s Scottsboro Limited: Four Poems and a Play in Verse which was created in response to the unjust Scottsboro trials. In 1931, nine young African American men were wrongly accused of raping two white women and were quickly rushed to trial where eight were found guilty and sentenced to death. The trials were appealed, and none of the men were executed. Over the next several years of appeals and three guilty verdicts, the innocent men were kept in jail and some were delivered sentences of up to ninety-nine years. Further miscarriages of justice of the trials included false testimony, all-white juries, and insufficient legal representation. The incident became a rallying cry among political artists and writers in the North, especially among those associated with the Harlem Renaissance. Taylor’s image of the nine men frames them as martyrs; a miserable, yet united group surrounded by a halo of light. Extending their arms and prayers toward the light that surrounds them, the men express hope for deliverance from the injustice facing them and all marginalized groups during this period.