Joe Jones, “The Struggle in the South”

The Struggle in the South is a 44′ x 9′ mural by Joe Jones that portrays the plight of ordinary Southerners in the 1930s, from striking miners, through African Americans facing violence, to sharecropping families.

Jones, who at the age of fourteen began his career as a housepainter, turned to social protest art in the years of the Great Depression. In the summer of 1935, he was commissioned to paint a mural in the dining hall of Commonwealth College in Mena, Arkansas.

Originally established in 1923 at Newllano Cooperative Colony near Leesville, Louisiana, Commonwealth College moved to Mena in late 1924 where it continued its mission to educate modern labor leaders. Jones, who had lectured at Commonwealth on proletarian art, began by traveling around Arkansas to collect photographic images documenting the lives of ordinary Arkansans. He completed The Struggle in the South in early September 1935. When Commonwealth College closed in 1940, a daughter of a faculty member reportedly took the mural to a house in Mena, where it was used to line closets.

After decades of misuse and neglect, in 1984 archivists at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock acquired the mural. The severely damaged artwork was found in twenty nine separate fragments that were stored in the art collection storage at the university.

In 2009, the Saint Louis Art Museum (SLAM) reached out to UA Little Rock as they were working on Joe Jones’s retrospective. SLAM asked to conserve a portion of the mural, which became the central piece of the exhibition “Joe Jones: Painter of the American Scene.” The subsequent efforts to restore the mural to its original form culminated in bringing it to the public. In 2018, the restored mural was permanently placed at UA Little Rock Downtown in the River Market district.

Educators and school groups are welcome to schedule a visit to explore the mural. We offer age-appropriate tours and social studies and/or visual arts activities inspired by the mural. We also welcome teachers to collaborate with us on creating discussion surrounding the mural that will best align with their teaching goals.

*The Struggle In The South contains images of violence and thus suggested appropriate for students 13 years of age or older.

For more information about the mural or to schedule a tour of the mural at UA Little Rock Downtown, please email or call 501-916-3330.