The collective was formed in direct response to the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, a huge political rally for human rights, which drew nearly a quarter of a million advocates for racial equality. Spiral was created in reaction to this by Richard Mayhew, Romare Bearden and Hale Woodruff to discuss how African American artists could respond to racism and represent their black communities.
Many of the artists associated with the group were abstract expressionists, but their work was ignored by many of the proponents of abstract expressionism, like the critic Clement Greenberg; who said their art was too autobiographical to be considered. Others like Romare Bearden used paint and collage in order to symbolise the merging of different communities and traditions. The group continued to operate throughout the 1960s and into the early 1970s.
Artists associated with Spiral are Charles Alston, Emma Amos, Romare Bearden, Calvin Douglas, Perry Ferguson, Reginald Gammon, Felrath Hines, Alvin Hollingsworth, Norman Lewis, William Majors, Richard Mayhew, Earle Miller, William Pritchard, Merton Simpson, Hale Woodruff and James Yeargans.