DIGITAL TOUR: Jerry Pinkney: Imaginings

The Old African (2005)

Music Credit:
Oh Freedom
Sweet Honey In the Rock
Album: Freedom Song (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
Written By: Traditional

The Old African is portrayed as powerful and intelligent being who longed for freedom and his homeland. In the story, the character exhibited the steadfast faith resiliency that his people needed to escape the pain and bondage of slavery.

The story of Ybo Landing inspired author Julius Lester’s masterful book, The Old African, a stirring legend infused with magical realism that he wrote with Jerry Pinkney’s illustrations in mind. “I remember vividly my first reading of The Old African, conscious of the possibility that it could be my next illustration project. I was stunned at the power and poetry of its creative language. But it seemed to me that Julius’s text was complete in itself,” Pinkney said. “I couldn’t help but ask myself, ‘What role could I play?'”

In preparing to illustrate The Old African, Jerry Pinkney visited the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture to immerse himself in information about the enslavement of the Ybo, and reached out to John Oriji, an African historian of Ybo origin. With research in place, he entered the story’s narrative and inhabited each character, drawing and redrawing them over and over again. Illustrations for i took two years to complete – a labor of love in tribute to those whose struggle is remembered. Author Julius Lester described Ybo Landing as “a place in Georgia…where it was believed a group of Ybo slaves walked into the water saying they were going to return to Africa.” Another version of the legend portrayed their exodus by flight.

The Clouds Continued to Roll In
The Clouds Continued to Roll In (2005)
Illustration for The Old African by Julius Lester
Dial Books, New York
Watercolor on paper – Collection of the artist
The Old African Gave the Signal
The Old African Gave the Signal (2005)
Illustration for The Old African by Julius Lester
Dial Books, New York
Watercolor on paper – Collection of the artist
How Many Want to Go to Africa With Me?
How Many Want to Go to Africa With Me? (2005)
Illustration for The Old African by Julius Lester
Dial Books, New York
Watercolor on paper – Collection of the artist
The Old African Led Them to the Bottom of the Ocean
The Old African Led Them to the Bottom of the Ocean (2005)
Illustration for The Old African by Julius Lester
Dial Books, New York
Watercolor on paper – Collection of the artist
2017-03-01T11:38:09+00:00