The Continuing Story of Where John Biggers’ Scenes from Ship Channel History Wound Up After He Painted Them

Probably the oldest thing hanging in the International Longshoremen’s Association Local 24 building in Pasadena is the 24-ft.-long mural shown at top, depicting — from left to right — the way black workers’ jobs at the Ship Channel evolved from the early 1900s to 1957 when the painting was completed. How the artwork made it from the banks of Buffalo Bayou to brand-new union building at 4060 Red Bluff Rd. is a story that spans about the same number of decades:

In the late ’50s, members of Houston’s black longshoremen’s union, I.L.A Local 872, commissioned an artist named John T. Biggers to paint something they could put on the walls of their meeting hall at 75th and Memphis St. Biggers — who after founding Texas Southern’s art department nearly a decade prior would go on to become one of the century’s most well-known black muralists — was pressed for time: “A UNESCO grant that I applied for two year earlier, to study traditional life in Africa, had come through. I was told be in Ghana by July 1, 1957 — three weeks away,” he recalled in a later interview. So he got to work like crazy in a studio at TSU, painting, “from 3 a.m. until classtime and after classes until midnight,” with the aid of sketches he’d made at the Port of Houston and the Ship Channel, writes historian Ollie Jensen Theisen. He met his deadline and turned over his work, History of the International Longshoremen’s Local 872, chronicles decades of history — from the heavy lifting of days past to a present moment in which a group union bosses foreground a few men on forklifts.

By order of a federal court in 1983, Local 872 merged with its whites-only counterpart Local 1723 to become Local 24. Biggers’ painting wound up in the second-floor auditorium of the new joint union’s building, which sits at 7811 Harrisburg Blvd. — between 78th and 79th streets — but received a demolition permit late last week.

Local 24 officials have already moved into their new home in Pasadena, completed following about 2 years of construction:


Photos: Swamplot inbox (new building); I.LA. Local 24 (construction and mural)

Houston Art History

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