In medieval times, when chivalry was prized, the virtue of fortitude was depicted by an allegorical person with a sword; thus, fortitude too often is misinterpreted as physical strength. Within American history, however, one of the most prominent examples of fortitude can be found in the African-American experience. In Balma's work, two main figures, draped in colorful, native dress, have persevered to retain part of their heritage; nevertheless, they stand strong. The mule, in the center, is an interesting blend of a horse and a donkey. It is the symbol of oppression, the beast of burden. It also represents the "40 acres and a mule" promised to freed slaves by the post-Civil War government. The two figures unleash the mule from the bridle, having surmounted adversity. The woman takes an active role in the bridle's removal because she has been considered as the lowly of the low. Her exposed breasts represent strength, in the literal sense of nourishment which comes only from a woman.
On Oct. 20, 1994, an open house was held to celebrate the completion of the Frescoes of St. Thomas. Seven community members were invited to comment about what each panel meant to him or her, personally.
Matthew Little, former president of NAACP Minnesota, spoke about the "Fortitude" panel:
"Having witnessed from a front-row seat, so to speak, the unfolding of the Civil Rights Movement of the '60s, in which nonviolent confrontation won over legalized repression, I am able to find personal empathy in the symbolism of fortitude depicted in this beautiful work. On behalf of my departed friend, Gleason Glover (past president of the Minneapolis Urban League), whom I regret did not live to take part in this celebration, I am proud of the infinitesimal part that we might have had in the advising of this section."