The H3O/Art of Life Blog
In Honor of the Keepers of the Culture: Marion Perkins, Toussaint Perkins, and Useni Perkins
By Judge Marian Emily Perkins
Presented by Omni-U Virtual University
Judge Marian Emily Perkins And her father Ancestor Toussaint Perkins
I fondly remember my Grandfather, Marion Perkins, a courageous man who, because of the injustices of lynching and fierce racial discrimination in America at that time, would not sign the loyalty oath required of all federal government workers. As a result, he was fired from his job at the U.S. Post Office.
This fueled his quest to have his own business, a newspaper stand, and to devote his time to his art. Peter Pollack, who observed him carving sculptures at this newsstand, introduced him to the artists at the South Side Community Art Center: Dr. Margaret Burroughs and her friends and fellow artists, Theodore White; Fern Gayden; Gwendolyn Brooks; and other like-minded artists and writers. Soon, they also became his friends. Some of the artists helped his wife, Eva, to secure work on the campus of the University of Chicago.
My grandfather's artwork received fellowships from the Rosenwald and Guggenheim Foundations. He also received other honors including his first sculpture award and purchase prize for "Ethiopia Awakening " from the Art Institute of Chicago. His work was exhibited in museums and art galleries throughout America and Ghana in honor of its independence as part of the U.S. Embassies Program. Today, one of Marion Perkins’ most noted sculptures, “Man of Sorrows,” and other sculptures are in the permanent collection of the Art Institute of Chicago.
My Dad named me after my grandfather, Marion Perkins. Once I learned about his creative and noteworthy contributions to the world of art and social justice, I felt I had to honor him by the way I live my life.
I fondly remember my late Father, Toussaint Perkins, who appears with me in the above photo. He was an award-winning urban artist committed to the elevation of African American culture, a businessman, and a Host of Kwanzaa ceremonies in the community. He grew up in “Bronzeville'' in the Ida B. Wells Homes with his parents, Marion Perkins and Eva Gillon Perkins, and two brothers, Robert Perkins, and [Useni]Eugene Perkins.
As an adult, my Dad was a quiet soul with a warm smile and eyes. He was a fun person, who enjoyed playing tennis and racquetball. My Dad cared deeply about Black people and our struggles in the face of racism and poverty. He named my brother, Louverture Perkins- who became a veteran educator in the Chicago Public Schools- in honor of the great Haitian freedom- fighter, Toussaint Louverture.
He graduated from the historic DuSable High School and attended the Art Institute of Chicago. He positively impacted many young Black people, who worked for him and their families, through his businesses located in “Bronzeville” and on the west side of Chicago. I also worked for my Dad when I was in high school.
As an artist who used oil painting as his vehicle, Toussaint Perkins depicted Black people with dignity as they worked on jobs, in family life, and in nature. He won awards at numerous art fairs in Chicago and throughout the Midwest. My brother and I helped him at many of them when we were in elementary and high school. My Dad and mom, Thelma Perkins- a CPS truant officer who also grew up in “Bronzeville-” were married for fifty-eight (58) years, before he made his transition at the age of 83.
It was, in part, because of my grandfather, Marion Perkins, that my Dad became the person he was in our society. Marion Perkins was a “Chicago Renaissance” sculptor, writer, educator, and thinker dedicated to the promotion of African American culture and the struggle for civil and human rights for Black people. He migrated to Chicago from Marche, Arkansas, near Little Rock, during "The Great Migration." He left Wendell Phillips High School in his senior year because he had to work to care for his family. However, he was a voracious reader.
My Dad was also positively influenced by his younger brother, [Useni] Eugene Perkins, a “Chicago History Maker,” social worker, former Executive Director of the Better Boys Foundation, and Facilitator of the “Community Cares Program" to uplift incarcerated youth at the St. Charles Illinois Juvenile Correctional Facility, educator, award-winning author of many books, poems, and plays including: “Home is A Dirty Street,” “Hey Black Child,” and "The Black Fairy."In Honor of the Keepers of the Culture: Grandfather, Ancestor Marion Perkins; Father, Ancestor Toussaint Perkins, and Uncle, Useni Eugene Perkins.
It is because of my Dad, Toussaint Perkins-along with other family members and his artist friends- that I decided to become a lawyer with the hope of becoming the “change that I wanted to see in this world.” Today, as a Circuit Court Judge of Cook County in the State of Illinois, my vision of justice and equal protection under the law, was formed, in part, by my deep respect for, and in honor of “keepers of the culture in the community”: my dad, Toussaint Perkins[Late], my grandfather, Marion Perkins[Late], and my father's brother, Useni Eugene Perkins.