African Americans in Graphic Design

Black History Month may be over, but its message is something we never want to forget. As part of my own Black History celebration, I wanted to share with my son some amazing facts and stories of famous African Americans who don’t typically appear in mainstream media. Not having a background in design, I was tragically unaware of the amazing contributions of so many black artists, strategists and visionaries in the art of design. Like many of us, the designers on this list were in many ways the first to venture into uncharted waters. Like many underrepresented persons, the designers on this list used their gifts for the betterment of the people around them.

In celebration of the many contributions of black designers, I would like to introduce to some and reintroduce to others a few famous African American men and women in graphic design.

Charles Dawson (1889-1981)

  • Born in 1898 in Georgia
  • Attended Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Institute
  • First black to attend the Art Institute of Chicago
  • Best known for illustrated advertisements
  • First African American admitted into the Arts Students League of New York
  • Founding member of The Arts & Letters Collective, the first black artists collective in Chicago
  • Contributed to the first exhibition of African American art at Art Institute of Chicago called Negro In Art Week

Eugene Winslow (1919-2001)

  • Born in Dayton, Ohio
  • Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Dillard University
  • Served in WWII as part of the Tuskegee Airmen
  • Attended The Art Institute of Chicago and the Illinois Institute of Technology
  • Co-founded the Am-Afro Publishing house based out of Chicago
  • Illustrator of ‘Great American Negroes Past and Present’
  • Designed the seal commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation for the Chicago exposition

The University of Chicago Library

Women in Graphic Design

Sylvia Harris (1953-2011)

  • Born and raised in Richmond, Virginia
  • Bachelor of Fine Arts from Virginia Commonwealth University
  • Masters in Graphic Design from Yale
  • Best known as a graphic designer, teacher, and business owner
  • Co-founded Two Twelve Associates, “a public information design firm that develops sustainable, user-centered designs to help people understand an increasingly complicated world”
  • Creative Director for the 2000 US Census Bureau, rebranding it to persuade under-represented citizens to participate
  • Awarded the AIGA medal posthumously in 2014

Beth Tondreau

School of Visual Arts NYC

Gail Anderson (1962-Present)

  • Born and raised in New York City
  • Known for her expressive typefaces, magazine layouts and theatrical posters
  • Attended the School of Visual Arts in NY
  • Designed for The Boston Globe & Rolling Stone
  • Designed Broadway and off-Broadway posters including that of Avenue Q and Eve Ensler’s The Good Body.

Women of Graphic Design

Dorothy Hayes (1935-2015)

  • Born in Mobile, Alabama
  • Attended Cooper Union School of Art and New York Institute of Advertising
  • Known for organizing the “Black Artist in Graphic Communication” exhibition, which was hailed by audiences throughout the U.S. and Canada


These individuals have all inspired me in some way and have paved a path forward in showing how powerful design can be in communicating positive messages.

By Adrienne Guillory
Published March 5, 2019