Vertis Hayes's eight-panel mural spans both walls of the first-floor corridor of the New Nurses Residence. The work chronologically follows an arc of African American history, transporting the viewer from Africa to America, from an African village to an American city peopled by African Americans in zoot suits and white nurse's dresses. The mural also suggests the migration of African Americans from their agrarian lives in the South to the industrialized North, an experience of personal significance for the artist who himself migrated from Atlanta to New York.
Hayes's work deploys numerous motifs of progress, which, for many artists of the period, was symbolized by capitalism and Western civilization. In this mural, Hayes describes the irresistible force of progress symbolized by a giant cog. Most likely, he borrowed this symbol from another African American artist, Aaron Douglas, who uses a cog in his 1934 mural Aspects of Negro Life, also created under the patronage of the WPA for the 135th Street branch of the New York Public Library.
Vertis Hayes, Pursuit of Happiness, oil on canvas, 1937.