When the depiction of the 1954 landmark Brown vs. Board of Education mural is unveiled to the public at noon Thursday at the Kansas State Capitol, the artist, Michael Young, will have accomplished “the commission of a lifetime.”

When the depiction of the 1954 landmark Brown vs. Board of Education mural is unveiled to the public at noon Thursday at the Kansas State Capitol, the artist, Michael Young, will have accomplished “the commission of a lifetime.”

Michael describes this lofty feat as “an artist’s dream” and he eagerly awaits seeing the public filing in and seeing the detailed artwork for the first time. The mural shows a black teacher reading to black and white students, with the Capitol building behind them. In the background are two schools in Topeka, Monroe Elementary School, which black children attended, and on the other side, a school attended by white children. Also in the background can be seen Ku Klux Klan members’ white hoods, a school bus and a mob of white people with signs that say “Keep city schools white” who are angrily protesting the possibility of integrating black and white kids in schools. On the opposite side, other protesters and black teenagers in caps and gowns sing spirituals and also carry signs saying “Separate is not equal.”

Each year about 70,000 people visit the capitol and 42,000 are schoolchildren.
“I think it’s important to have some drama in a mural such as this,” says Michael. “Some people are oblivious to the hateful acts we committed in this story but it is reality and needed to be addressed. Linda Brown and many other school children should never have witnessed this behavior. It is especially sad that Linda passed not long ago. She would have loved viewing the mural in person after so long in the making.”
Linda Brown was in third grade in 1950 when she was denied admission to an all-white elementary school in her hometown of Topeka. She lived 20 blocks from her segregated school, but just five blocks from the all-white school. Rev. Oliver Brown, Linda’s father, sued the school district in 1951 after the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People took up the case. The court declared school segregation an unconstitutional violation of the 14th Amendment's guarantee of equal protection under the law in a unanimous ruling in 1954, striking down the “separate but equal” doctrine, the basis for segregation, that had been in place for 58 years.

Michael became aware of the search for an artist for this epic mural purely by chance in 2012.
“Luckily my brother-in-law Mitch Young heard about it on the radio, if not for that coincidence someone else would be finishing it right now,” says Michael. “I wouldn’t want to guess my hours invested through all the processes but actual final mural time was from Nov. 1 until now placing the final touches. It was a labor of love but I was faced with hard choices and decision making which I’m not the best at.”
He was in the meeting room during the voting to choose the mural’s artist.

“One minute I thought I had it, I didn’t. Back and forth until I had enough votes. One woman really wanted to go with another so she tried to stall for several more months. Linda Brown’s daughter Cheryl gave a wonderful speech on my behalf which went a long way. She brought along a professor from Washburn University who explained why my design was the best choice for the mural. His first words were, ‘In this case less is more. Very clear from a distance is what we need.’ It was very intense. When they did announce my victory I was very solemn. I know how bad the other two artists felt and you could see it in their eyes. They did however congratulate me. I don’t know how many artists applied initially but a New York artist was a finalist.”
When Michael began work on the  22-foot-wide, nearly eight-foot-tall canvas, he was continuing a family tradition that goes back to his great-grandfather. His parents have owned Young Sign Company for 40 years. His grandfather and father, Eugene Young, were painters and his son is also an artist. Eugene still paints at 89.
“I think coming from a family with an art history has helped me so much,” he said. “My father, Eugene, inherited my uncle Tom’s Art Correspondence course after his early passing in World War II. He was always painting in his spare time and it triggered something in me. I’m very happy my son Ian has taken it up. He just had a show in Los Angeles.”

At the time he was in school, Lansing High School didn’t have an art program. He attended a vocational school in Salina and his first job was as an architectural illustrator in Kansas City. He then studied anatomy and art at the Art Students League of New York. He stayed in Manhattan for a while and worked in a painting studio.
“I suppose my style would be considered ‘Stylized Realism,’” says Michael. “My semi-abstract work is coined ‘Prismatism.’ My style has changed in the sense that I’m not as crisp and tight as I once was. My early influences were the regionalists like Benton, Wood and Curry. I’m inspired to create unique works that are interesting and enjoyable to view.”

In addition to the Kansas State Capitol, he now has murals that are featured in Leavenworth County Courthouse, Gates & Son BBQ, Kansas City, Boston Aquarium and Trump Towers.
The Capitol mural was one of his biggest artistic challenges.
“I suppose the biggest challenges were the painting of my foreground figures,” says Michael. “I thought I could pick out models and draw them or have a professional photographer capture them in perfect lighting but it didn’t work out that way. I did use my niece’s children for the newspaper boy and center boy. This is my most prestigious commission to date. I’ve had other fine jobs including The Bleeding Kansas Theme for the Leavenworth County Courthouse. It’s so cool to know countless numbers of young and old will experience my work on the walls of the Kansas Capital for hundreds of years in the future. I am honored to have been chosen for this historical work of art, where it will be displayed on mural tours from now until kingdom come.”
Michael is particularly eager for children to see the mural and learn about this important event that changed history.

And for kids who see the mural and are inspired to become artists he offers advice.
“I would encourage children to have fun with it most of all,” he said. “When an artist wants more than they can deliver the passion will usually leave them. You don’t have to be a professional to enjoy creating something for self-satisfaction and to share with your friends. I would also encourage future artists to create portraits and other representational art which will give them a better chance for making money.”
As time draws close to the mural’s unveiling, Michael is both excited and anxious. He is still striving to put some finishing touches on it and ensure the painting is all it can be.

“Whenever you get to the tweaking stage of a work, it’s actually the fun part, softening or sharpening edges, subtle color and value changes, etc.” says Michael.
Michael feels extremely lucky to have been doing what he loves for 45 years.
“Big thanks to my wife Vickie. She has helped so much with everything, but honestly, there is no substitute for hard work and never giving up,” he said. “Art was something I just had to do, why, I don’t know, maybe to make up for the fact I wasn’t good at anything else, but whatever reason I’m glad and extremely proud.
“It’s amazing my work will be included in the daily mural tours with the tour guide explaining the details of my ideas. I am so honored to have been chosen for this historical mural for the grandest structure in Kansas.”