Portrait of Bill Traylor by Charles Shannon ca. 1939.
Bill Traylor (1854?–1949) was born into slavery on a plantation in Alabama. After emancipation, he continued to live and work on the plantation until sometime before 1928, when he moved permanently to Montgomery. There he worked as a laborer and briefly in a shoe factory until he was physically unable to continue, then began receiving modest government assistance. Under the challenging conditions of Depression-era Alabama, Traylor survived on the streets in the then primarily black enclave of Monroe Avenue (now called Monroe Street). He slept first in the storage room of a funeral parlor, then in a shoe repair shop, and spent his days sitting on the sidewalks, creating the more than 1,200 drawings he is believed to have produced.
-via High Museum of Art