The BOILERMAKER, by artist Derek Fordjour, was given to the Purdue Black Alumni Organization (PBAO) on October 2, 2009, Homecoming Weekend, after the premier of the film Black Purdue directed by Fordjour and Jamar White. In celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Black Cultural Center and the 30th anniversary of the PBAO, the painting is embedded with symbolism that tells the history of Black Boilermakers. The tool belt carries a brick reminding us of the May 16, 1968 protest when students marched in a single filed line carrying bricks in brown paper bags. Those bricks were laid out on the steps with a sign that read “…or THE FIRE NEXT TIME” which is a line from a slave song and the title of a book of essays on Black identity by James Baldwin.

According to the artist, the painting represents "the legacy of the Black Boilermaker."

• The hand grasping onto the legacy in the form of a hammer with 1869 etched into it represents our presence at Purdue from the beginning.
• The BOILERMAKER is wearing a tool belt with no tools and the year 1968 is etched on the tool belt. Inside of the tool belt is a brick representing the march in 1968. The absence of tools represent the efforts by others prior to 1968 to move Purdue forward like the letter writing campaign of Rev. Hood in the 1940s, the students who marched and all students of 1968 -70.
• The mortar on the brick represents Purdue and its decision to build up the university and make it more inclusive.
• The hat worn by the BOILERMAKER is etched with the date 1894, the year the first Black person graduated from Purdue University.
• The implied lines in the painting all point to the hand of the BOILERMAKER. The hand is reaching back symbolizing the efforts of the Black Alumni, faculty and staff who believe “for all the students in Indiana that need to be here, it is our job to get them here.”
• Finally, the setting sun in the left of the painting represents West Lafayette, Indiana, the home of Purdue University.

In a silent auction,Trustee, Mamon Powers, the second African American appointed as a Board of Trustee to Purdue University, paid $10,000 to the scholarship fund of PBAO to have the right to name the painting. A plaque on the painting reads:

Presented to the PBAO by Mamon and Cynthia Powers
In recognition of the May 16, 1968 student protest
That gave birth to the Black Cultural Center and
The overall improvement of Black life at Purdue University
October 2, 2009 Homecoming Celebration

~ Jolivette Anderson-Douoning


Derek Fordjour




Oil on Canvas

Original Format


Physical Dimensions

50” X 24”
55” X 29” (framed)


the boilermaker.jpg


Derek Fordjour, “Boilermaker,” Black Cultural Center Virtual Museum, accessed March 23, 2023,