Joe Wade Minter Sr (born March 28, 1943) is a retired construction worker and "outsider" artist who created his "African Village in America" at his home and an adjoining vacant lot at 912 Nassau Street near Shadow Lawn Memorial Park in the Woodland Park neighborhood of Birmingham's Titusville community.
Minter was one of 10 children born to Lawrence Dunbar Minter, a World War I veteran and long-time caretaker at Elmwood Cemetery, and his wife, Rosie. He attended Washington Elementary School for four years, then transferred to Center Street Elementary School, graduating from 8th grade in 1957. He married the former Hilda Jo Patrick on February 25, 1969 and had two sons.
From 1961 to 1963 Minter worked as a dishwasher at a drive-in restaurant, 7 days a week, 10 hours a day for $19 per week. From there he was hired as a delivery worker at University Hospital, bringing warehouse supplies up to each department. He also filled in as an orderly in the emergency department.
In 1965 Minter was drafted into the U.S. Army. He completed basic training at Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina and trained as a generator mechanic at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. He served in South Carolina, Missouri, and Texas and rose to the rank of Specialist 4 (E4) before earning his discharge in 1967. After his return he worked as a fabricator and auto body repairer. He has also worked on road and construction crews. He developed glaucoma from dusty conditions and had surgery on one eye. After his employer closed in 1979 he worked mainly odd jobs. Beginning that year he began writing down his personal meditations on spiritual matters and the African American experience.
In 1988, in response to a vision, Minter began working on his African Village in America. He turned to it full time after retiring from work in 1995, partly motivated to tell stories that he thought might be overlooked by the development of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.
The result, which is being continually enlarged, is a densely-packed art environment consisting of sculptures, monuments, signs, plantings and totems. The primary themes involve African-American history, particularly in Birmingham. Specific installations memorialize the 1963 church bombing and Martin Luther King Jr's stay in the Birmingham City Jail. He includes references to the spirits of African warriors looking over their descendants, and the achievements of African-Americans in numerous fields. Alongside the themes of achievement and loss are constant Biblical references and words of praise and thanks to God. These messages are distinct from William Rice's "cross garden" in Prattville in that they favor praise and respect for God and creation rather than fiery appeals for salvation.
In 2021 a team from the University of Alabama's Paul R. Jones Museum began digitally documenting Minter and his installation with funding from the Atlanta, Georgia-based Souls Grown Deep Foundation, which supports outsider artists.
- Minter, Joe Sr (2005) To You Through Me: The Beginning of a Link of a Journey of 400 Years.
- Arnett, William and Paul. (2001) Souls Grown Deep: African American Vernacular Art of the South. Volume 2. Atlanta: Tinwood Books.
- Rivers, Cheryl. (2004) "Joe Minter" in Coming Home: Self-Taught Artists, the Bible, and the American South. Exhibition catalog. Memphis: University of Memphis
- Russell, Charles (Winter 2009) "The Stations of the African American Passion" Raw Vision No. 68
- Garrison, Greg (April 24, 2010) "Birmingham folk artist Joe Minter turns junk into spiritual statement." The Birmingham News
- Michaels, Ryan (October 14, 2021) "How Alabama Academics Plan to Preserve Artwork of Joe Minter." The Birmingham Times
- Joe Minter's African Village in America on Facebook.com
- Joe Minter at soulsgrowndeep.org
- Photographs of the African Village in America at Flickr.com