Saturday, July 31, 2010

New 50-foot mural at UNC School of Government celebrates African-Americans

A creative interpretation of the Greensboro lunch counter sit-in of 1960 is the first in a series of murals that will commemorate the contributions of African Americans and Native Americans to the state. Titled “SERVICE,” the 5-by50-foot painting by Charleston, S.C., artist Colin Quashie was dedicated at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s School of Government this week.

“We serve all of North Carolina’s public officials and all North Carolinians,” said Michael Smith, dean of the School of Government. “This painting not only represents the full breadth of our work, but also the value we place on the accomplishments of African Americans in North Carolina.”

The mural showcases 40 individuals and more than eight events symbolizing North Carolina’s African American history associated with civil rights, government, business, journalism and education. The painting shows a gathering of African-American leaders at the counter of a diner not unlike Woolworth’s.

The artist has featured the Greensboro Four—Joseph McNeil, David Richmond, Jibreel Khazan (formerly known as Ezell Blair Jr.) and Franklin McCain, students from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University who took part in the lunch counter sit-ins in Greensboro—as chefs. “They literally took possession of the lunch counter with their refusal to leave until served. By seeking service they were, by extension, serving a cause greater than themselves," Quashie said.

Funding for the project was provided by Local Government Federal Credit Union. “The decision to fund this project was a no-brainer for us,” said Maurice Smith, president of the credit union. “Our mission is to improve the lives of North Carolinians. Sometimes we do that by offering affordable financial services; sometimes, by setting an example. This is truly a proud moment for the credit union and for me personally.”

“SERVICE”is located on the first floor of the school’s Knapp-Sanders Building, and may be viewed any time the building is open. Call (919) 966-5381 for more information.

School of Government contact: Ellen Bradley, (919) 843-6527,


The mural, a single 5' x 50' painting, visually consists of eight panels, each representing an event, place, or particular accomplishment in the history of North Carolina.

Panel 1—Princeville, North Carolina
Freedom Hill was a community of freed slaves following the Civil War. In 1885 it was renamed after ex-slave Turner Prince and incorporated as Princeville, NC. It is the oldest incorporated municipality of freed slaves in America. The Town Hall, originally a Rosenwald school, is now the community's African-American museum.

Panel 2—Pea Island Lifesavers
The Pea Island Life-Saving Station on the Outer Banks of North Carolina was the first life-saving station in the country to have an all-black crew, and a black man, Richard Etheridge, as commanding officer.

Panel 3—Menhaden Fishing Fleet and Chanteymen
Beaufort, North Carolina, is the menhaden capital of the world. The shipboard crews employed by the fisheries were predominantly black over the years and the work assigned to them was physically demanding. To help ease and pace this extraordinary labor, the men sang "chanteys" or worksongs that were drawn from many sources, including hymns and gospel songs, blues, and barbershop quartet songs, and were often improvised.

Panel 4—Parrish Street, Durham, North Carolina
In the early twentieth century, Parrish Street in Durham, North Carolina, was the hub of African American business activity. This four-block district was known as “Black Wall Street." Although other cities had similar districts, Durham’s was one of the most vital and was nationally known.

Panel 5—North Carolina School Integration
After the integration of Charlotte schools in 1957, many whites showed their objection by refusing to allow their children to ride school buses with black children.

Panel 6—U.S. Colored Regiment
The 27th regiment of US Colored Troops, under the command of Gen. Charles Paine, played a prominent role in the capture of Fort Fisher in February 1865, after which they constituted the vanguard of the Union's march on Wilmington.

Panel 7—Somerset Place Plantation
The Somerset Place Plantation was North Carolina's third largest by 1860. Designated as a State Historic Site in 1969. In 1986 Dorothy Spruill Redford planned a gathering of descendants of slaves known as Somerset Homecoming. More than 3,000 descendants nationwide attended the homecoming at the plantation.

Panel 8—Dr. King and Ralph Abernathy
A week after the sit-ins began, F.W. Woolworth temporarily closed the lunch counter. Two weeks later, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rev. Ralph Abernathy came to Greensboro to lend their support to the movement


Colin Quashie began his art career in 1989 and is best known for challenging audiences with his brand of controversial social commentary. Since 1996 he has financed his art by writing comedy for television and freelancing as a graphic artist. Born in London, England, he currently resides in Charleston, South Carolina.

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