Monthly Archives: March 2015

Hidden Zackheim Social Justice Murals

Laurie says:

I had a rare opportunity to see Bernard Zakheim’s murals at UCSF in San Francisco. They are on all the walls of a lecture hall that’s for medical students and so usually not available. When I read that they were open to the public for three days this spring.  I made sure to go on the first day.

Zakheim was a social justice artist who studied and worked with Diego Rivera. He’s best known for his murals at Coit Tower in San Francisco. Three of the four photographs here are mine. I was really glad I shot them but if I had realized that there was so little on the web I would have shot more extensively.


From the article in the San Francisco Chronicle by Carl Nolte:

The murals, painted over four years by the celebrated — and controversial — artist Bernard Zakheim, had kind of an underground reputation. They cover much of the walls of a large lecture room at Toland Hall. The 10 murals, which show the history of medicine in California, are colorful and vibrant.

Mural: Bernard Zakheim's History of Medicine in California (1937-39) - UCSF Toland Hall


…They are in the classic Mexican muralist style in the tradition of Diego Rivera,” who Zackheim worked and studied with. The UCSF murals, …are part of a tradition of mural fresco art that flourished in San Francisco during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Other examples are the murals at Coit Tower, in the lobby of Rincon Center, on the ground floor of the Beach Chalet at the western end of Golden Gate Park and a huge mural painted by Rivera himself that is now mounted at the little theater at City College.



The murals begin in an era before European contact and run up until the mid-20th century.

It is clear that Zakheim had strong views — the Spanish missionaries, for example, are presented in a harsh light. And he shows a different side of the Gold Rush of 1849 and later — a man amputating his own leg, a shooting involving a medical man and a quack doctor, a panel showing the great San Francisco plague scare of 1906.


Zakheim’s heroes are medical pioneers, among them Dr. Hugh Toland, who founded the medical school that eventually became UCSF. The villains are crooked politicians and other enemies of good medicine. It is powerful stuff.

They were covered up as “distracting” for may years… The late ’40s and ’50s were the height of an anticommunist hysteria, and Zakheim had been one of the left-leaning muralists who worked at Coit Tower, a piece of art regarded with suspicion by the political right. They were finally uncovered in 1963.

The amazing part of the experience is being in the small lecture hall surrounded by these vivid powerful political art.

They are at UCSF in Toland Hall, 533 Parnassus (Room U-142), up a flight of stairs and down a hall. Though the building is open to the public, there are no signs to indicate the artistic treasure inside Room U142. They can be seen Friday, April 17th:  3 – 5 p.m and Friday, May 22nd:  3 – 5 p.m.

Afro-American Women’s Tennis: Beyond Venus and Serena

Debbie says:

Laurie and I have blogged a few times over the years about Venus and Serena Williams, so I was especially interested to read about Margaret and Roumania Peters, two sisters who aced women’s tennis together in the American Tennis Association, the first black sports league to include women.


It’s not surprising that many people don’t know much about black women’s tennis before Althea Gibson, since the black sports leagues didn’t accept women, and the white women’s sports leagues didn’t accept blacks. Where was a black women player, let alone a pair of talented sisters, to go?

According to Steven J. Niven, posting at The Root (link above):

The Peters sisters grew up in a predominantly black, working-class section of D.C., a few blocks from the Rose Park playground at 26th and O streets, an area described by one historian as central to black community life in Georgetown between the world wars.

It provided a rare communal space where young men and women played basketball and volleyball, and where the Peters sisters played on one of the few tennis courts open to African Americans in the city. As an adult, Roumania Peters Walker recalled that the court was covered in “sand, dirt, rocks, everything. We would have to get out there in the morning and pick up the rocks, and sweep the line and put some dry lime on there.”

After doing well in a tennis tournament at historically black Wilberforce University, the sisters were recruited to Tuskegee University in Alabama.

During their time in Alabama (1937-41) and for a decade after leaving, Margaret and Roumania would dominate the women’s game at the end of the Jim Crow era. Their victories at the ATA were shown at black movie theaters, including the Mott in their home city of Washington, and they became local heroes back home in Georgetown. … their fame on the tennis court largely derived from the 14 doubles titles they won between 1938 and 1941 and between 1944 and 1953. Roumania also won ATA national singles titles in 1944 and 1946. In winning her second title, she defeated the up-and-coming Althea Gibson, who later won 10 ATA national singles titles.

The Peters sisters apparently weren’t still playing when Gibson desegregated the Grand Slam tournaments. Maybe their names would be familiar now if they’d had a chance on the courts of the wider tennis world. They died in 2003 and 2004, and Margaret lived to see herself and her sister inducted into the Mid-Atlantic Section Hall of Fame of the U.S. Tennis Association.

From now on, I’ll be thinking of them in the same breath as Venus and Serena. A quick internet search reveals no famous pairs of tennis-playing sisters who were not of African descent. Am I missing some?

Thanks to Maya Dusenbery at Feministing for the pointer, and to Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham’s monumental African-American National Biography for the source material.