Exhibit highlights blacks in American Revolution

Feb. 02, 2014 @ 05:19 PM

Helping to kick off Black History Month was Michelle Nichole and her exhibit “In Hopes of Freedom: A Tribute to African American Heroes of the American Revolution.”

In the main branch of Durham County Library Sunday afternoon, Nichole displayed several oil paintings depicting black heroes of the American Revolution who often go unmentioned in many history lessons.

Accompanying each painting was a brief description of the historic scene. While some are completely from Nichole’s imagination, most were inspired by the accounts and stories in “Colored Patriots of the American Revolution” by William Cooper Nell.

“It makes me very happy that all of you are here to hear about these heroes,” she said. “I found out about them by accident.”

Working as a masseuse in Virginia, Nichole said that a client was looking for someone to paint William Flora and his role in the Battle of Great Bridge.

“I learned a lot doing just those two paintings,” she said. “After learning all this, I just felt compelled to start the ‘In Hopes of Freedom’ collection.”

A graduate of Hampton University, Nichole is a self-taught artist who began painting in her spare time. Using oil paints for her work, Nichole’s pieces have been shown in Atlanta, Baltimore, the N.C. Museum of History in Raleigh and the Hayti Heritage Center in Durham.

With a Powerpoint presentation, Nichole explained that both free and enslaved blacks fought in every major battle of the American Revolutionary War. While some served to earn wages or in place of their masters, others sought to improve the social standing of their race in the community.

Often serving longer terms than their white counterparts, the blacks in the Revolutionary War had a higher rate of re-enlistment, Nichole said, and a lower rate of desertion.

Nichole said that hours of research went into the finer details of each scene to keep them as historically accurate as possible.

“I did my first two paintings in 1998 and my next one in 2005,” she said. “I spent the time in between reading and gathering information for the details of the paintings.”

Between 2005 and 2007, Nichole said, she completed 22 of her paintings. Among the people depicted in her paintings are Jordan Freeman, John Chavis, Shibodee Turrey Wurry and the Rhode Island Regiment.

As a child she did not like the memorization of dates and faceless people, Nichole said. So she has become somewhat of a history nerd because of her work.

When painting a portion of a slave ship used during the Transatlantic Slave Trade, Nichole said, “if they can endure the Middle Passage, I can draw each leg and each loin cloth and each eye. I owe them that.”

Mary White browsed Nichole’s collection Sunday afternoon and sees it as a great contribution to history.

“I particularly appreciate the fact that they have historical references and give us a glimpse of how things were,” White said. “It’s a type of reality that we need to be reminded of.”

White said that some of the people Nichole depicted were foreign to her.

“There’s an important value in that to today’s society,” she said.

She’s expected to speak to a class at N.C. Central University on Feb. 20. She said that she plans to continue her paintings, “until everyone knows about my heroes!”