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Joe Overstreet (1933–2019), painter and activist in the Black Arts Movement

by Kirk Fox

Joe Overstreet was a painter who was an important figure in the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and 1970s. He brought attention to important social issues through his powerful paintings such as Strange Fruit, an abstract painting about the 1964 murders in Mississippi of civil rights workers James Cheney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner. He co-founded NYC’s Kenkeleba House, an art space dedicated to showcasing the work of historically marginalized artists and communities. His work was recently featured in 2017 in an exhibit titled, “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power,” which originated at the Tate Modern in London and then traveled to New York City.

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Died: Tuesday, June 4, 2019 (Who else died on June 4?)

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Details of death: Died at the age of 85.


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Overstreet on his paintings: “For me, painting is not intellectual, it’s emotional; I have to feel empathetic, akin to situations. I paint things that I think about and feel.” —In a 2004 interview, according to the New York Times

What they said about him: “We are mourning the passing of artist/organizer Joe Overstreet, who died Tuesday in NYC. Overstreet was a participant in our Creating a Living Legacy (CALL) program. It was an honor to assist in the documentation of his extraordinary life’s work.” —The Joan Mitchell Foundation

“We are deeply saddened by the news of artist Joe Overstreet’s passing. A major figure and innovative painter, he has been on our minds for months and we are honored his work will be on view at the Rose this summer.” —Rose Art Museum

Full obituary: New York Times

Birthdate: June 20, 1933 (Who else was born on June 20th?)

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