Oil on cardboard
20 x 36 cm (8 x 14 in.); signed lower right: Walter W. Ellison
Signed lower right (vertically on suitcase): W W E
Charles M. Kurtz Charitable Trust and Barbara Neff Smith and Solomon Byron Smith funds; through prior gifts of Florence Jane Adams, Mr. and Mrs. Carter H. Harrison, and the estate of Celia Schmidt, 1990.134
Walter Ellison’s Train Station depicts white and black travelers departing from a central terminal, bound for different cities. The composition reflects the social values of the time, which prevented members of the two races from mixing. On the left, white passengers board trains for vacations in the South, while on the right, African American passengers head for trains going to northern cities such as Chicago and Detroit. In those cities, black travelers hoped to find better jobs and living conditions.
The sign reading "colored" above the platform doorway on the right emphasizes the degrading conditions that African Americans in the South faced at the time. In the center section, black porters aid white passengers, yet black travelers are offered such no help.
The station depicted here may be the very place in Macon, Georgia, where Ellison himself boarded a train heading north, joining the more than six million blacks who left their rural southern homes after World War I and during the Great Migration. Ellison traveled to Chicago, the nation’s industrial center, where migrants could find potential jobs in meatpacking and at rail and steel mills. Although discrimination was inescapable, the city offered acceptable schools, voting rights, and leisure activities. Once in Chicago, Ellison studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. During the 1940s, he was active in the South Side Community Art Center, which was sponsored by the WPA/FAP.