History & Heroes: Five Fast Facts- Sam Countee

Pulaski County Missouri History and Heroes

Samuel Albert Countee was an American painter. While stationed at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, during World War II, in 1945, Countee, an African-American Staff Sergeant, was enlisted to paint a 4-foot by 10.5-foot mural above the fireplace of the Black Officers Club housed in Building 2101. The Black Officers Club building at Fort Leonard Wood, a relic of a segregated military, is one of only two such buildings still standing. The other, Mountain View Officers Club, is located at Fort Huachuca. Countee’s artwork at Fort Leonard Wood, has been valued at more than $370,000. As of January 10, 2018 the mural is on display at Fort Leonard Wood’s John B. Mahaffey Museum Complex, giving the public a chance to view the historic artwork before it’s returned to Building 2101.

Staff Sergeant Samuel Countee's World War II era mural. Via Fort Leonard Wood Public Affairs Office.

Staff Sergeant Samuel Countee’s World War II era mural. Via Fort Leonard Wood Public Affairs Office.

1. Countee is a descendent of Rev. Jack Yates, who in 1866, became pastor of the Antioch Baptist Church in the Freedman’s Town neighborhood in downtown Houston, Texas. Countee’s portrait of Yates was displayed in a 1986 exhibit commemorating the Yates/Countee family.
2. African-Americans were not allowed to participate in the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts exhibition at the 1936 Texas Centennial, so Samuel Countee’s painting My Guitar was shown in the Hall of Negro Life, where it was the most popular painting at the exhibition of African-American artists.
3. In 1952 Countee won a $100 prize for his painting Brown Girl at Atlanta University’s 11th Annual Exhibition of Paintings, Sculpture, and Prints by Negro Artists.
4. While stationed at Fort Leonard Wood he also painted theater sets for USO performances- including the production of Goldbrickers of 1944.
5. After mustering out of the Army, Countee moved to New York City and continued his career as an artist. He was a popular and well-known artist in Harlem and taught art classes at the Harlem YWCA.

Sources:

Samuel Albert Countee-The Longshoreman, James Graham Baker
https://tucson.com/news/local/new-life-on-horizon-for-former-fort-huachuca-black-officers/article_ebc0a115-aad4-5220-af79-4e243cb08969.html
https://www.columbiamissourian.com/news/historic-mural-at-fort-leonard-wood-illustrates-segregation-in-army/article_7b1fbef9-f7cf-55f6-92f6-ac996af69b19.html
https://www.army.mil/article/183450/fort_leonard_wood_mural_returns_awaiting_display

History & Heroes: Five Fast Facts is an occasional series of interesting facts regarding namesakes and historical figures in Pulaski County, Missouri.

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