John Brantley Wilder, 81, An Artist, Journalist And Civil Rights Activist

Posted: September 13, 1990

In pre-World War II Hollywood, blacks were depicted on screen as servants, maids and slaves. In Philadelphia, local artist John Brantley Wilder decided to do something about it.

In 1948, Mr. Wilder began what he would later describe as a "one-man crusade" in which he traveled across the country to gather 14,000 signatures on petitions calling for more dignified portrayals of blacks. In 1950, Mr. Wilder handed in the petitions, which he kept on a mile-long scroll, to studio executives who promised to make changes.

Mr. Wilder, 81, a journalist, artist and civil rights activist, died Sunday at his home in Queen Village.

"John Brantley Wilder was the Cecil B. Moore of journalism," said State Rep. David P. Richardson, a longtime friend. "He was the guy who would get there in the trenches and get all the information. He didn't deal with partial truths; he went after it all."

Mr. Wilder, first and foremost a painter, went into journalism to support his artwork. He was a reporter, education editor and columnist who worked from the early 1960s until the early 1970s at the Philadelphia Tribune.

"John Brantley Wilder is a name revered here at the Tribune," said Robert W. Bogle, Tribune president. "He certainly has been an example to those who came after him. We at the Tribune feel a great loss."

"He was a journalist, historian and an artist who committed his life to telling the accurate story and the contributions made by African-Americans," said Acel Moore, associate editor of The Inquirer.

Last year, Mr. Wilder's The Toasties, a history of the black middle class in South Philadelphia from 1800 to 1929, was published.

As an artist, Mr. Wilder painted in what he called a stylized realism, or a style that reflects life in a realistic rather than an abstract manner.

His paintings were exhibited at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Philadelphia Art Club and the La Salle College Library.

In 1980, Mr. Wilder unveiled a portrait of the late Cecil B. Moore, resplendent in a silk suit and holding a cigar, to City Council. The portrait now hangs in the Afro-American Historical and Cultural Museum.

Mr. Wilder, a Philadelphia native, graduated from Central High School, and was educated at the Philadelphia Art School and the Albert C. Barnes foundation in Merion. He also attended Drexel University and La Salle.

"He was always a fighter," said his wife, the former Joan Graham. "He wasn't willing to stand still in the face of anything that had to do with prejudice or racism."

Besides his wife, he is survived by a son, Christian Brantley; a daughter, Joan Bryan; a brother, and several grandchildren.

A funeral service will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at Mount Olivet Tabernacle Baptist Church, 43d and Wallace Streets.

Burial will be at Ivy Hill Cemetery in Mount Airy.

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