Profiles and Portraits : African Americans in Niles' Past, Present, and Future
VE Exhibit Label 1:
Related to the Finley family by marriage, Charlotte “Lottie” Wilson was a nationally renowned artist whose works were displayed at the White House and in cities throughout the Eastern half of the United States.

In 1854, Lottie Wilson was born in Niles, Michigan to parents Calvin and Henrietta.Over time, Wilson became a talented painter who went on to have an extraordinary career as a trailblazing artist in the United States. She was the first African American to attend and graduate from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Although her medium consisted primarily of portrait and landscape painting, she was also known to dabble in the painting of fine china, fine needlework and sculpting. She made several busts of important figures in black history, including Frederick Douglas and Phillis Wheatley. Throughout her career, Wilson also had a passion for education and taught classes in several cities. She gave lessons in oil, pastel, ceramics, china painting, free hand drawing and painting conservation.

Wilson's best known work is titled President Lincoln with A Former Slave which interprets the significant meeting of Sojourner Truth and Abraham Lincoln in 1864. Lottie presented this piece to President Theodore Roosevelt in 1902. The painting then hung in the White House for a time, making her one of the first black artists to have work displayed in the prestigious building.

Aside from her professional career, Lottie Wilson was an activist who campaigned for women's rights. She held talks on women's progress at several churches and art studios during the late 19th century. More so, Wilson was a dedicated civil rights advocate who placed a strong emphasis on the rights of black women. In 1896 she spoke at the first annual convention of the League of Colored Women in Washington D.C. In 1898, she also spoke at the Michigan Equal Suffrage Association convention. One year later, she was asked to represent her current residence, Bay City, at the National American Women's Suffrage Association Convention. At the convention, she proposed an amendment protesting the policy of separate railroad coaches for black women in the South. Her proposition was flatly rejected by Susan B. Anthony, but according to newspaper reports, Wilson was the only woman brave enough to stand up against the famous suffragist.

During the 1890s, Wilson relocated to Washington DC to open a studio. In 1906 she moved back to Niles. She continued to exhibit her work and hold classes in a home at 299 5th Street. In the early 1910s she was diagnosed with colon cancer and finally succumbed to it on January 16, 1914 at the age of 60. She is buried at Silverbrook Cemetery in Niles with her parents and children. A year after her death, Wilson’s work was included in an exhibition titled “Fiftieth Anniversary of the Emancipation of the Negro” during the Lincoln Jubilee in Chicago.

Photo courtesy of the Niles District Library
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Portrait of Charlotte Portrait of Charlotte "Lottie" Wilson