Durham’s Ernie Barnes proved to be both an ath­lete and artist

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Carolina Living - BY BRIDGETTE A. LACY Cor­re­spon­dent Bridgette A. Lacy is a free­lance writer. Reach her at brid­get­[email protected]

Durham na­tive Ernie Barnes might have been from a neigh­bor­hood called the Bot­toms, but he pro­pelled his way to the top us­ing sports and art. He was nur­tured by a mother de­ter­mined to ex­pose him to a larger world and by a sup­port­ive seg­re­gated black com­mu­nity.

Barnes, who would have cel­e­brated his 80th birth­day July 15, will be re­mem­bered through his paint­ings. "The North Carolina Roots of Artist Ernie Barnes" ex­hi­bi­tion at the North Carolina Mu­seum of His­tory opens June 29 and runs through March 3.

The show fea­tures 37 oil and acrylic paint­ings, in­clud­ing a re­pro­duc­tion of his most fa­mous paint­ing, “The Sugar Shack,” which many peo­ple saw for the first time on soul singer Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You” al­bum cover and dur­ing the clos­ing cred­its of “Good Times,” the tele­vi­sion sit­com that ran from 1974 to 1979.

In ad­di­tion, 20 of Barnes' ar­ti­facts will be on dis­play, in­clud­ing his paint­ing pal­ette, brushes and blocked let­ters he earned as a foot­ball player at Hill­side High School in Durham.

“Although I never got a chance to meet Ernie in per­son, I was so hon­ored to be able to work on this ex­hibit, be­cause now I feel like I do know him,” said Katie Ed­wards, the mu­seum's pop cul­ture cu­ra­tor. “He was a re­mark­able hu­man be­ing who de­fied odds and be­came a renowned artist. This ex­hibit is an amaz­ing op­por­tu­nity for the state of North Carolina. It’s a chance for vis­i­tors to see a num­ber of Ernie’s works that he painted through­out his life and see the im­pact that the state had on him and his ca­reer.”

Ed­wards says the works are di­vided into three sec­tions: Durham roots, his NFL ca­reer and his artis­tic jour­ney.


Ernest Barnes Jr. grew up near the Hayti Dis­trict of Durham. His fa­ther, Ernest E. Barnes Sr., was a ship­ping clerk for Liggett My­ers To­bacco Com­pany, and his mother, Fan­nie Mae Barnes, was a house­keeper for prom­i­nent Durham at­tor­ney Frank L. Fuller.

“He was a brown-skin boy from a nice fam­ily but from the wrong side of the tracks,” says Durham na­tive and child­hood friend Ir­win Holmes.

“Ernie and I went to school to­gether,” Holmes said. “He was an ath­lete by na­ture. He was al­ways big for his age. … Our se­nior year of high school we were both voted the top ath­letes in our class.”

Holmes, who grad­u­ated third in his Hill­side High School class of 1956, en­rolled at N.C. State as an elec­tri­cal engi­neer­ing ma­jor and joined the ten­nis team, be­com­ing N.C. State’s first African-Amer­i­can ath­lete.

Mean­while, Barnes was of­fered 26 ath­letic schol­ar­ships but de­cided to at­tend North Carolina Col­lege at Durham, which even­tu­ally be­came North Carolina Cen­tral Uni­ver­sity.

Barnes en­rolled at North Carolina Col­lege in the fall of 1956 and offi- cially left the spring of 1960. While the school has no record of his ma­jor, folks knew Barnes wanted to be an artist.

Ernie Barnes Fam­ily Trust

Artist Ernie Barnes at the Bal­ti­more Colts train­ing camp in 1960.

Ernie Barnes

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