This was for many years the defining publication on Charles White, published in several editions by Ward Ritchie Press, Los Angeles. The first printing was April 1967, the second printing was December 1967 and the third printing was April 1969. 121pp, 95 b&w illustrations, and designed by Joseph Simon, Images of Dignity was an important monograph on Charles White. It was published in conjunction with White's longtime dealer Benjamin Horowitz's Heritage Gallery, it presents a comprehensive survey of over forty years of the artist's moving works on paper, the African American image and experience located at the heart of these wonderful works.
A measure of the significance and importance of Images of Dignity was alluded to in a text on White published in Ebony magazine. A major eight page feature on the artist, written by Louie Robinson, stated, "The publication of [White’s] Images of Dignity alone is a singular achievement. No other living Negro artist has ever had a book of his works published (a collection of the art of the late Horace Pippin appeared in print after his death)."
With a chronology, exhibition history and bibliography, this was, until at least the time of his death, the go-to publication on Charles White. The book's Contents were:
Foreword, by Harry Belafonte
An Appreciation, by James Porter
Images of Dignity, by Benjamin Horowitz
The Drawings of Charles White - 88 pages of White's work, arranged chronologically, the earliest dating from 1925, the most recent works being a number of White's J'Accuse! drawings. A measure of just how talented White was can be ascertained from the first reproduction, executed by White when he just 7 years old. The landscape, featuring a cabin, set in a forest clearing, with mountains in the background was truly a remarkably accomplished ink drawing.
That James Porter should write an appreciation is highly significant. Porter had been responsible for the first substantial study on African-American art, Modern Negro Art, published until 1943. From Porter's appreciation: "I like to think of Charles White not just as an artist - not even as an American artist - but as an artist who, more than any other, has found a way of embodying in his art the very texture of Negro experience as found in life in America. Recognizing and seizing upon that which is unique as well as that which is general or universal about the Negro people, he has, as Mr. Belafonte has remarked, spoken in "the poetic beauty of Negro idiom." In any case, White has made of his own artistic language a splendid vehicle for that idiom. Charles is an artist steeped in life; and his informed artistic vision conduces to an understanding of vivid pictorial symbols which, though large as life itself, are altogether free of false or distorted ideas or shallow and dubious emotion."
Likewise, it was no surprise that Harry Belafonte should write a foreword for Images of Dignity, as Harry Belafonte and Charles White maintained a longstanding friendship over many years and the singer/civil rights activist owned one of White signature works, a depiction of a singing guitarist. Belafonte had owned the work since at least as early as the mid 1950s, and it appeared in the background of a portrait of the singer and his wife, Julie Robinson, used on the cover of Ebony magazine, July 1957. White had provided illustrations for several publications on Belafonte, so this foreword by Belafonte was no surprise. Wrote Belafonte, "His portraits are real, but, like some of Sean O'Casey's dramas, they are oftentimes much bigger than life, as if the artist is saying to us, "Life is much more than this. Life is big and broad and deep."" Belafonte's respect for White was reinscribed, in 2001, when White’s work (owned by Belafonte) was used on the cover of The Long Road to Freedom: An Anthology of Black Music, an extraordinary, ambitious box set that was Belafonte’s brainchild and labour of love.
The cover of Images of Dignity featured White's Two Brothers Have I had on Earth - One of Spirit, One of Sod, charcoal, 1965, a distinguished work made all the more so by being in the collection of Premier Sekou Toure of Guinea. The rear flyleaf of the book's jacket contained several extracts from glowing reviews written by the several reviewers, included Arthur Miller, whose review of Images of Dignity had appeared in Los Angeles Herald Examiner.
This particular edition (second printing) was signed by Charles White, with the inscription 'TO PATSI BARRETT with my warmest regards CHARES WHITE '68'. Patsi Barrett may well have been related to White's wife, Frances Barrett.
The first edition came in a slipcase in a numbered edition of 250, all signed by the artist and bearing the following inscription: "The first 125 of this limited edition of 250 copies specially bound and boxed contain an original lithograph by Charles White. This is copy no._____" A copy of the lithograph is held by the Eddie Chambers' collection of Charles White materials.