Historical Integration Legacy
“Loïs Mailou Jones had race and gender as imposed limitations. Add the choice of being an artist to these two and Loïs was, in my opinion, on a trajectory for providing that as a woman she was equal to and as good as any male artist, black or white.”
— Dr. Tritobia Hayes Benjamin, former student and author of The Life and Art of Loïs Mailou Jones, 2009

 Discussing Paris in 1937 with Hillary Clinton, during Martha's Vineyard visit in 1993. From an interview with Linsey Lee, courtesy of the Martha's Vineyard Museum.  Read “The Challenge of Racism” interview transcript here

“When were you in Paris?”  I said, “It was in 1937.”  And she said, “Wasn't that when Josephine Baker was there?”  I said, “Yes.”  And she said, “Because certainly she opened doors for you.”  That was Mrs. Clinton, the President's wife, and we discussed that and she said, “That it must have been very important during your visit there, your stay there.” And it was. 

I remember going into some of the French restaurants and the garçon looking at me and finally asking, “"Pardon, mademoiselle, vous étres Josephine Baker?”  And I would say, “No, I am not Josephine Baker, I know her.” and all. But they thought because of my color being browned skinned that I was Josephine Baker.  


Life can seem pretty rosy when you are selling paintings to Vineyard Haven residents at 12 years old, but life can turn out very differently from what you expect when you live through the most tumultuous period of racial change in America.   Throughout her 60 year career as an artist and educator, Loïs Mailou Jones broke down barriers with quiet determination during a time when inequality, racial discrimination, and segregation hindered her from gaining the acknowledgement and prestige she deserved as a talented artist.

Because African-Americans were physically excluded from Washington, DC galleries in the 1930's and 1940's, Loïs often had a white friend, Céline Tabary, enter her works into shows and competitions.  Because of her skin color, Loïs was unable to pick up prizes she received for fear of being disqualified.  For example, her winning entry Indian Shops, Gay Head, Massachusetts in a 1941 Corcoran Gallery Exhibition went unrecognized as she requested the award to be mailed to her as opposed to receiving it in person.  However, determined and persevering as she was, Loïs continued submitting her works until she had gained enough recognition to be allowed to enter on her own merit.  Her plan worked and she eventually gave up her anonymity after winning several prizes. 

Loïs was the first and only African American to break the segregation barrier denying African Americans the right to display visual art at public and private galleries and museums in the United States.  One of her greatest accomplishments was being the first African American to have a solo exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.  Additionally, in 1994 the once-exclusionary Corcoran was a stop on her national exhibition, The World of Loïs Mailou Jones.  For her 89th birthday, Corcoran gave Loïs a star-studded birthday party, a birthday cake, and—best of all—an apology for its former racist policies. In 1996, the Corcoran School of Art presented her with an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree declaring, “In grateful recognition of your talent, your lifetime contribution to the arts, and your perseverance in breaking down that separates us, one from another...”  In 1998, Loïs lovingly donated Indian Shops, Gay Head, Massachusetts to the Corcoran Gallery of Art's permanent collection.

"When the Corcoran Closed in 2014, the Trustees of the National Gallery of Art voted to include Indian shops in the NGA "Corcoran Collection."