Serving in the Air Force during the 1940s and later teaching in the South in the 1950s, Wilson was well acquainted with the experience of racism and the psychological as well as physical damage it could cause its targets. Later, he would describe this in terms of a “psychic split,” a profound division between one’s sense of self and how one was seen by White society. “I found,” he wrote in 1968, “that this ‘psychic split’ could destroy me humanistically in that my sole purpose as a person and teacher … was moving toward wanting to destroy the system that had brought about all that inhumanity.”
Minority Man is a sculptural exploration, bitter in its humor, of the dehumanizing force of this racism. Carved from North Carolina red hickory, the “minority man” with his exaggerated features looks up at the viewer, hands clasped over his chest in supplication. As Romare Bearden and Harry Henderson wrote in their History of African-American Artists, it “satirized the begging attitude minority people were expected to assume by the majority.” Wilson’s subsequent involvement in the civil rights movement in North Carolina helped to doom this ugly stereotype.