The Talladega murals are Woodruffs most ambitious and successful undertaking in this format prior to the Second World War. The Amistad mural, which would become his best-known large-scale work, marked his place -- even if not fully acknowledged -- as a significant American painter of heroic sagas and narratives.
Woodruff's first critically important mural, The Amistad Mutiny (figs. 81 - 83), was dedicated in 1939. A separate but related mural celebrating the founding of Talladega College in Alabama was completed in 1940. The Amistad Mutiny mural project corresponded with the opening of the new Savery Library and the centennial year of the Amistad mutiny: Both mural projects paid honor to the American Missionary Association (AMA), which had grown out of the Amistad revolt and helped found Talladega College. With energy and excitement, Woodruff spent three months researching the events surrounding the mutiny. Nine months was spent painting the murals and preparing them for installation.
The Murals have been exposed worldwide as historical treasures. Steven Spielberg’s movie, “The Amistad,” is the subject of this incident. In addition to inclusion in a number of textbooks, art books, magazines, etc., they were listed by Southern Living magazine as one of the “40 Best Things to See in Alabama.”
There are currently replicas on the walls of the library, with the originals being housed in the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia. Once the new museum is built they will be brought home and housed properly.
Three dramatic moments were chosen to tell the Amistad story: panel one shows the mutiny in progress, panel two presents the trial, and panel three depicts the return of the Mende captives to West Africa. Each panel is accompanied by interpretive text in the form of poetic verses.
Appearing in association with the first panel is:
The Schooner will be ours
Ours to steer back, by the sun, to our shore to freedom.
Our hands free.
Our legs walking with a big stride
And our faces upward to our Mountains.
Panel two has the following lines:
Circuit Court, District Court,
The Amistad case debated Men standing up for the slaves
Men standing up for the Spaniards Men standing up for justice and truth
Men standing up with fire in their voices
For the honor of America and democracy. Circuit Court
District Court Supreme Court
The third panel bears the inscription:
Out of New York another ship goes, The Gentleman
This time black freedom moves in her sides
And the fighters for this freedom have sent the race
To teach the heathens in the hunter's land
The fire is lit
The Smoke is rising... rising.