Mural dedication commemorates civil rights, community involvement

McDaniel Roberts leads the African American Dance Ensemble in front of the newly finished mural. (Staff photo by Tyler Vahan)


More than 100 community members came together Saturday morning (Oct. 17)  at the dedication ceremony for a 2,400 square foot mural commemorating Durham’s civil rights leaders.

Muralist Brenda Miller Holmes directed the public art project, titled “We Must Remember And Continue To Tell,” a quote from Charmaine McKissick-Melton, associate professor at North Carolina Central University. Multiple family members of McKissick-Melton’s are featured in the mural, which is located next to the Durham Arts Council at 110 Morris St.

“One thing I learned working on this project is Durham shows up,” said Holmes in reference to both the event’s turnout and the community’s involvement in the project as a whole.

The mural’s assistant director DeMarcus Boone, 20, talks to the crowd about his experiences working on the project. (Staff photo by Tyler Vahan)

The mural’s assistant director DeMarcus Boone, 20, talks to the crowd about his experiences working on the project. (Staff photo by Tyler Vahan)

“If you look at the wall, this is what community looks like,” she said.

The project began in 2013 after a series of educational lectures led by Benjamin Speller at the Hayti Heritage Center. Holmes looked for a team of 30 volunteers, 15 of whom were students, to paint the mural.

“We need to have youth at every table. They need to be everywhere that decisions are made,” Holmes said at the dedication ceremony.

Youth involvement with civil rights was strongly focused on throughout the entire project.

Mural assistant director DeMarcus Boone, 20, embodies the idea of youth leadership.

At the ceremony, Boone explained the importance of both young and old working together.

“You have to learn before you fight, or else you’re gonna lose,” he said. “Communication is the only way we get things done.”

For Boone, the mural served the purpose of not only memorializing great figures, but it also educated him in his city’s civil rights history.

“It blew me away to learn so many great figures were here in this city,” Boone said.

One of these great figures is Durham civil rights icon Ann Atwater, 80, who came out to the dedication as well. She is featured prominently on the wall, which depicts her next to fellow school reform advocate, the late C.P. Ellis, — a former KKK member.

Atwater continued the day’s ongoing theme of youth involvement.

“We need to teach kids the importance of voting,” Atwater said. “Even though I’m in a wheelchair, I’m getting out there to vote.”

Atwater conveyed in her speech how faith was related to the movement, which involved many local church leaders.

She said the movement should “keep God first and foremost, and that will carry us through.”

The dedication ceremony ended with a performance by the African American Dance Ensemble. Company leader Charles Davis began by teaching the crowd a chant that echoed the mission of civil rights: “Peace, love, respect for everybody. Peace, peace, peace for the earth.”

Davis invited members of the crowd to come and dance as the performance went on.

The dedication ceremony for Durham’s pilot public art project was followed by the rest of Black Genius Fest 2015. The festival featured booths aimed at family fun, contests and a community art piece that anyone could go up and add to.

Both the dedication ceremony and the festival accomplished Holmes’ mission for the day: “Get Durham together to tell its own story.”

McDaniel Roberts leads the African-American Dance Ensemble in front of the newly finished mural. (Staff photo by Tyler Vahan)

McDaniel Roberts leads the African-American Dance Ensemble while the crowd chants “Peace, love, respect for everybody. Peace, peace, peace for the earth.”. (Staff photo by Tyler Vahan)

Tyler Vahan, a senior communication major at UNC-CH, is from Huntersville, and serving as the design editor of the VOICE.