Atlanta’s Civil Rights History Told Through Murals

A vibrant mural to a deserving man.

“Off The Wall: Atlanta’s Civil Rights and Social Justice Journey.” The project that was a collaboration between the art advocacy group Wonder Root and the Super Bowl host committee. An initiative taken that was meant to be lasting public works of art for Atlanta natives to enjoy long after the football fans have left.

As Atlanta prepares to host the Super Bowl, local artists are painting murals that highlight the city’s civil rights and social justice legacy. The Artists from around the country were invited to participate out of which 10 applicants were selected, by the panel of a nomination and selection Committee. Other applicants were selected by public voting in the name of “Atlanta’s Choice”. In total, they plan to install roughly 30 murals.

The idea was to celebrate Atlanta’s role in the civil rights struggle of the 1950s and 1960s and connect that rich legacy with more contemporary struggles for justice and equality. Wonder Root executive director Chris Appleton said:
“We definitely have works that, for good reason, make Atlanta proud of its role in the civil rights movement and the human rights movement, and we have murals that invite and challenge us in Atlanta to continue striving for that beloved community.”
The term “beloved community” was made popular by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., an Atlanta native, to describe a society centered on equal opportunity and justice and rooted in the philosophy of nonviolence.

The artists sat in on those conversations and used them to inform their mural designs, which then went through two rounds of community feedback.

Appleton further said:
“Several dozen “community conversations” brought out unheard and untold stories about the struggle for justice that needed to be elevated. I really believe the artists have done a great job of amplifying and complexifying narratives around justice issues in Atlanta and beyond. The murals, as a collection, are celebratory in some cases, are aspirational in some cases and are rooted in truth-telling.”

Muhammad Yungai, the muralist selected by public vote, drew inspiration from a community conversation held at Spelman College. His work, “Community Roots,” is on a wall in Atlanta’s Castleberry Hill neighborhood. It showcases actual students from four historically black colleges and universities in Atlanta — Spelman, Morehouse, Clark Atlanta and Morris Brown — and the produce they help grow.
The 44-year-old middle school art teacher and professional muralist said his work often focuses on education.

“I believe education is the biggest thing that we can do as a culture to ensure that everyone can achieve the life they want,” Yungai said.

Shaniqua Gay was inspired by a community conversation at Covenant House, which provides housing and support for homeless young people. Her mural, “Excuse me while I kiss the sky,” adorns the walls of the Vine City transit station, across the street the stadium.

Gay said she wanted to represent people who sleep under the trees and bushes. Dark outlines of leaves and flowers that she said are inspired by Georgia’s abundant vegetation are layered over brightly colored profiles of young people she met at Covenant House.
“I went and took photographs of these young people making kissy faces to kind of humanize homelessness because we don’t attribute kissing with being homeless — or joy or laughter or young people,” she said.

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