Charles Smith opens today at the DuSable Museum of African American History in Chicago.
Smith was born in New Orleans and raised in the Chicago area. He was deeply affected by the death and open-casket funeral of Emmett Till, a young man also from Chicago close to his own age who was brutally murdered while visiting relatives in Mississippi in 1955.
Smith served in the Marines in Viet Nam, receiving a Purple Heart. When he returned he felt a call to portray and uplift the African American experience through sculpture. He says, "God gave me a weapon -- use art."
The yard of his Aurora home was transformed into the African American Heritage Museum and Black Veterans Archives, a display of monuments honoring civil rights leaders, musicians, artists, athletes and old friends. He also created memorials to the 4000 African American troops who died in Viet Nam and to the massacred in Rwanda.
In 2002 Smith returned to Louisiana to create a similar museum in Hammond, and to participate in the Algiers Folk Art Zone in New Orleans.
The exhibit runs through December 31.