When people think about the images that define the Civil Rights Era in the US, they most likely think about film footage. The recording of “I Have A Dream” is famous, while there’s also footage of police brutality and marches. Photography of this era is also abundant, and while color photography existed, black-and-white photos were cheaper and easier for journalists. Iconic photos include Ruby Bridges at school with the US Marshalls accompanying her, Dr. King walking arm-in-arm with colleagues, and Rosa Parks at the police station. Photos aren’t the only art form that captures the essence of the Civil Rights era. Murals have become a popular and powerful way to process and celebrate. Because murals are a form of street art, they are accessible in a way that museums and exhibits aren’t. Murals confront people in their real lives. Here are five murals about the ongoing fight for justice and equality:
Staircases and Mountaintops: Ascending Beyond the Dream
Mural Arts Philadelphia | Location: Martin Luther King, Jr. Recreation Center (Philadelphia)
In 2014, the Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center and PhillyRising Collaborative asked Mural Arts Philadelphia about renovating their old murals. Mural Arts designed Staircases and Mountaintops: Ascending Beyond the Dream. The mural on the front of the building is based on a photo by William Lovelace. It shows Dr. King and Coretta Scott King leading the voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery. On the side, there’s an abstract mural with mountains and stairs. This symbolizes the journey it takes to reach equality. These beautiful murals draw attention to the facility, which covers a city block and features a full-size gym, a large playground, sports fields, and classrooms.
Children and the Youth Bill of Rights
Jesus Kobe Garcia and Margaret Harburg | Location: Trillium Charter School (Portland, OR)
In 2006, Portland created “Our Bill of Rights: Children and Youth,” which was eventually adopted by Multnomah County. It was the result of discussions with more than 3,000 children and youth and an event – the Convention on the Rights of Children – where more than 500 young people came together to ratify it. Portland became the first city in the United States to adopt a Bill of Rights written for and by children and youth. In 2011, artists Jesus Kobe Garcia and Margaret Harburg teamed up with kids from five North Portland schools to design and paint a mural. It features images like flowers, which represent America changing for the better, a clean ocean with sea animals, and diverse groups of people. The mural’s overall vision was to show a world that the students want to see become a reality. The mural covers a 25’ by 30’ wall.
Remembering a Forgotten Hero
Mural Arts Philadelphia | Location: Universal Charter School
Civil rights activist Octavius Catto was born in 1839. He worked as a teacher, activist, and athlete in Philadelphia. While living in the city, he played a key role in the passing of a state bill that prohibited segregation on transit systems and worked to integrate baseball. In 1871, when Catto was just 32 years old, he was murdered while on his way to vote on Election Day. Remembering a Forgotten Hero, commissioned by Mural Arts Philadelphia, is the country’s first mural that honors this activist. With an aesthetic that resembles a vintage newspaper, the mural of Catto’s head and shoulders stands five stories tall.
The Durham Civil Rights Mural
Brenda Miller Holmes | Location: 120 Morris Street (near Durham Arts Council)
Artist Brenda Miller Holmes and Dr. Benjamin Speller began the mural process in 2013. They met with 30 community members and organized a series of lectures and educational workshops about civil rights history in Durham, North Carolina. Each community member then had the opportunity to give their opinion on the mural’s color scheme, composition, and other design aspects. The mural was completed in 2015. It depicts a blue sky with figures important to Durham’s Black community in the late 19th-century, such as Dr. Aaron Moore, who founded the city’s first hospital for Black Americans. Other figures include activist Ann Atwater and former Ku Klux Klan leader C.P. Ellis, who became friends. A vibrant mural, it’s also layered with references to local stories like the sit-ins at Howard Johnson’s Ice Cream and the Royal Ice Cream Parlor.
We Shall Always March Ahead
Muhammad Yungai | Location: Joseph E. Boone Boulevard and Sunset Avenue
In 2018, Atlanta, Georgia hosted the Super Bowl. To bring attention to the area’s civil rights history and ongoing journey to equality, the Atlanta Super Bowl Host Committee joined with WonderRoot to launch the “Off the Wall” project. 11 local and national artists painted murals on the walls of community centers and businesses. Muhammed Yugani, who came to Atlanta in the 1990s, created four murals for the project, including “We Shall Always March Ahead.” It depicts Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, Coretta Scott King, Ralph David Abernathy Jr., Hosea Williams, and John Lewis.