A mural’s deep meaning

May. 21, 2014 @ 07:56 AM

At the top of the Facebook page for the Durham Civil Rights History Mural Project, a quote from movement pioneer Charmaine McKissick-Melton concisely makes the case for why the work is important:

“We must remember and continue to tell.”

That we must, and that is why it is so encouraging that the project, dormant for several months because the mural’s initial site fell through, is back on track. As The Herald-Sun’s Cliff Bellamy reported in the paper Tuesday, project organizers hope to enlist the public to help paint the city’s first official public art project later this month.

The new site is enormously appropriate. The mural will be on the rear wall of the Durham Convention Center, in the parking lot next to the Durham Arts Council Building.

The building is the former Durham City Hall, and is a stop on the city’s civil rights tour. (Before its city hall days, it was Durham High School – and, of course in those days, the city’s white’s-only secondary school.)

With its public participation, its series of workshops and discussions last year, and its grassroots focus, the mural will be exemplary of Durham’s spirit as it captures dramatic moments of its past.

“History is often presented in one top-down dimension that honors leaders and ignores the tremendous efforts of everyday people,” the project’s Facebook page description says. “Our desire is to depict a fuller history, celebrating the hundreds of Durham Citizens whose feet were on the ground working and to commemorate the incredible sacrifices that they made to create change. Understanding the power of each person’s contribution to collective effort has the potential to inspire new movement as we continue to strive for justice.”

The civil rights movement transformed Durham, as it did so much of the South and indeed the nation.  Its arc here was especially powerful, given a prosperous African American middle class and a number of prominent movement leaders here.

As we’ve reflected before on these pages, the eyewitnesses and participants in that movement, easily the most important social movement in this country in the 20th century, are growing old and passing from the scene.

So efforts to capture that history in word and in art are critical to helping future generations understand the obstacles those who undertook it encountered and the accomplishments they realized. Even today, a younger generation may not fully grasp the risks – economic, psychological, physical – that surrounded the movement.

The mural project organizers have launched a crowd-funding campaign through the www.indiegogo.com website to raise the last of the necessary funds. You can help bring the project to fruition by donating there -- and you can volunteer to help paint the mural when that time comes.

We eagerly await the project’s becoming a reality -- to ensure that our community remembers and continues to tell the vitally important story.