Wabash YMCA Mural | The Most Beautiful Places in Chicago
Wabash YMCA Mural
We all know the story of the Picasso in front of the Daley Center. The story of Mr. William Edouard Scott’s mural at the Black Wabash YMCA – that should be just as common as the story of the Picasso.— Shermann “Dilla” Thomas, Chicago historian
Geoffrey Baer talks with Shermann "Dilla" Thomas about the Wabash YMCA mural.
The former Wabash YMCA in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood is a historic building, and a work of art on one of its interior walls is equally historic. African American artist William Edouard Scott painted the Mind, Body, and Spirit mural in 1936. Historian Shermann “Dilla” Thomas told Geoffrey Baer that the mural is meant to reflect the Black metropolis, or the stretch of Bronzeville businesses, arts, and nightlife that Black migrants from the South would have encountered upon arriving amidst the Great Migration. In the mural, African Americans are depicted as doctors, businessmen, artists, singers, aviators, athletes, academics, spiritual leaders, and more. “He painted this mural in 1936, and so that’s roughly about 70 years after the end of chattel slavery in this country. And yet he’s able to depict all of the things that African Americans have been able to contribute and participate in only having been out of slavery 70 years. That’s quite amazing.” Thomas said. The Wabash YMCA was the first YMCA to admit African Americans, and it was also the birthplace of the concept for Black History Month. Dr. Carter G. Woodson created the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, which established Negro History Week, an early predecessor to Black History Month. The association’s meetings took place in the very room where the mural still resides. In 2023, the historic property received a grant to help restore the building for future generations. The building is no longer a YMCA, and instead houses the Renaissance Collaborative, a social services agency.