You may not know it, but St. Louis was at the forefront of the country's civil rights movement. It's the focus of an exhibit on display at the Missouri History Museum.

'#1 in Civil Rights' focuses on the struggles faced by African Americans in our city to gain equality. For one local man, the exhibit is art imitating life.

Walking through the civil rights exhibit at the Missouri History Museum is like stepping back in time for artist Robert Ketchens.

"The fact that I was doing something historically relevant that dealt with the period of time that I grew up in and I knew a lot about was just ultimate for me," said Ketchens.

Ketchens, a New Orleans native, has called St. Louis home for more than 30 years. He's one of four local African-American artists commissioned to create original art for the exhibit.

"Being a black man in America, living in the era, gave me that emotional impact to push messages through," said Ketchens. "So it was easy for me to bring St. Louis' struggle, part of New Orleans struggle, part of Alabama's struggle and so forth, it was the nation's struggle."

Ketchens brought an expertise in portrait painting, bringing to life civil rights champions Judge Nathan Young, Attorney George Vaughn and activist Pearl Maddox.

"She was a female during the 1940s, she was African American and for her to stand up and face the powers to be and to organize and to have the power to see that she was doing was right and just, to me that was the best portrait that I did," said Ketchens.

Ketchens is also responsible for one of the first works of art visitors see. He says the mural pulls everything he learned about the city's civil rights struggle together. It's one artist's expression of the past that could play a role in changing the future.

"I think the exhibit will open some eyes," said Ketchens. "My hope is that it will open up the ideas of those who are closed to change."

In addition to Robert Ketchens, the exhibit artists William Burton, Dail Chambers and Darnel Chambers. "Five on your Side" helps to sponsor the exhibit.

#1 in Civil Rights will be at the history museum through next April.