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Published February 25, 2021

Discover 'A Monumental Journey'

A Tribute to the Country's Groundbreaking Black Lawyers


By Jen Levisen


Groundbreaking work should be honored in groundbreaking ways. To commemorate the founding of the National Bar Association and the 12 courageous black attorneys who didn't just create the organization in 1925 but changed the course of American history, A Monumental Journey was opened to the public in 2018 in Des Moines, Iowa, where the organization began.


Made of sturdy brick and steel and weighing nearly 25 tons, the 30-foot-high sculpture is as formidable as the work it is immortalizing. The manganese ironspot brick, by Mortarr subscriber Endicott, on the monument's exterior adds a dark, elegant sheen. Iron ore additives in this classic brick material mirror the blue, gray, or golden colors of the sky, further adding to the dynamic design.

Artist Kerry James Marshall designed the monument. He took his inspiration from the talking drums of West Africa, where communities communicated over long distances by varying the pitch of the drum and using tone to mimic patterns of speech. The monument, two drums precariously stacked upon each other, represents the importance of communication between groups of people and the need for achieving a balanced justice system.

Marshall is recognized as one of the leading contemporary artists of his time and is internationally renowned for his revolutionary portraits of Black subjects. He was born in Birmingham, Ala., at the start of the American civil rights movement and later moved to the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles just a few years before the Watts riots. According to his biography, his work is inspired by his personal history and what he interprets as recurring elements of the American experience, both past and present.


"The legal system is supposed to be organized to bring justice, but it's never a simple or straightforward matter."

"It's always more dynamic and more complicated than it seems to be on its face," said Marshall to ArtNet News at the unveiling of the monument in 2018.

In 1925, facing discrimination from the American Bar Association and other legal organizations because of their race, the 12 lawyers — 11 men and one woman — established the National Bar Association in Des Moines, Iowa. Now the oldest and largest legal association to primarily serve black lawyers, the National Bar Association represents members worldwide. Marshall inscribed the base of the sculpture with the names of the 12 National Bar Association founders: George Adams, Jesse Baker, S. Joe Brown, Charles Calloway, Wendell Green, William Haynes, Charles Howard, Sr., L. Amasa Knox, James Morris, Gertrude Rush, C. Francis Stradford, and George Woodson.

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