CSW was privileged to host a series of presentations on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book Chasing Me to My Grave: An Artists Memoir of the Jim Crow South. The book chronicles the life and work of Winfred Rembert (1945-2021), an artist from Cuthbert, Georgia.
Recently cited as “one of the century’s most unique and visionary artist-chroniclers of Black American life,” Winfred grew up in a family of field laborers. He joined the civil right movement as a teacher, survived a near-lynching at the hands of law enforcement, and spent seven years on chain gangs. Decades later, at the age of 51 and encouraged by his wife Patsy, Winfred became an artist to share his life story by carving, tooling, and painting autobiographical scenes from his youth onto leather canvas, using leather-tooling skills he had learned in prison.
With sponsorship from the Maverick Lloyd Speaker Series
, CSW was able to welcome Erin I. Kelly, the book’s co-author, along with Patsy Rembert and Mitchell Rembert, Winfred and Patsy’s son, for a full day of programming, beginning with an all-school assembly. At the assembly, Erin, Patsy, and Mitchell shared vignettes from Winfred's life, backdropped by a selection of his vibrant paintings and carvings, such as “Mass Workers (Chain Gang),” “Caint to Caint,” “Doll Head Baseball,” “All of Me,” and “Patsy and Me.” Community members were also fortunate to hear personal insights surrounding Winfred's paintings from both Patsy and Mitchell, including the story of how Winfred and Patsy met (Winfred, while working on the chain gang, came to Patsy’s yard asking for water). And Mitchell shared how once, in an effort to get his sons to stop complaining, Winfred brought the family to the South so that they could experience firsthand just how difficult cotton picking is and was.
After the assembly, students headed to their advisories to discuss the presentation in small groups. During lunch, Mitchell met with students in CSW Men of Color and Black Student Union groups, for continued conversation. At a faculty/staff meeting in the afternoon, community members met again with Patsy, Mitchell, and Erin to discuss the importance of teaching and talking about difficult, painful topics like the story of Winfred's arrest, escape from Jail, and violent recapture. Parents and members of the public were also able to engage with Erin and the Remberts at an evening program.
In conjunction with this special visit, CSW trustee and past parent John Thompson P’05,’07, curated a special exhibit titled “Nothing’s Changing Fast Enough,”
in the Thompson Gallery featuring work by Winfred, Mitchell, and Robert Freeman. Community members are welcomed and encouraged to stop in and see the artwork.