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Monday, July 12, 2021

Mural Tells Story Of Black History

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Community comes together for unique art project

The Shreveport Commission on Race and Cultural Diversity is sponsoring a community art mural at Galilee’s Stewart- Belle Stadium in Allendale. I am a member of the commission and lead artist for the mural.

About a year ago, the commission began meeting to study race cnd cultural diversity issues in Shreveport and make recommendations. Mayor Perkins requested that we address the history of the black community, disparities between black and white citizens, issues around policing and youth, and encourage a dialogue about race and cultural diversity in our city. I raised the idea of a community art mural, and Pastor Brian Wilson, who is on the commission, offered the stadium wall. Galilee Baptist traded the city for the original Galilee Church building and now owns the stadium. The old Galilee Baptist Church will become a Civil Rights Museum.

The wall, which fronts the old SPAR Stadium, is over 400 feet long. When I saw it, I knew it could tell a story. I found four local artists – Eric Francis, KaDavien Baylor, Whitney Tates and Katherine Owens. Together, we immersed ourselves in local black history by talking to residents and historians, visiting the photographic archives of LSU-S and reading everything we could find, including “The Blacker the Berry: A Black History of Shreveport” by Willie Burton.

We decided to create a mural that tells the story of the descendants of enslaved people in our city and represents hope for Shreveport in the future. The mural is a visual history lesson that addresses black citizens’ long striving for equality.

One historical figure on the mural is C.C. Antoine, who was lieutenant governor of Louisiana during Reconstruction and a state senator from Caddo Parish. He was considered a trustworthy and strong civic advocate of Shreveport. Antoine was originally from New Orleans and moved to Allendale, settling on a farm and continued engaging in politics. He opened a grocery store, owned a cotton plantation, speculated in local real estate and was president of the Cosmopolitan Life Insurance Company of Louisiana. Antoine was also co-founder of the Citizen’s Committee that devised a strategy to challenge Louisiana’s Separate Car Act of 1890, which segregated rail cars. The resulting Supreme Court case, Plessy v. Ferguson, upheld segregation and stated that “separate but equal” was constitutional, opening the doors for the Jim Crow laws that separated black people as inferior to others. Some 60 years later, in 1954, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka overturned the case.

This history and more are told on the mural. Local civil rights icons such as the Rev. C.C.  McLain, Dr. C.O. Simpkins, the Rev. Harry Blake, the Rev. E. Edward Jones Sr. and Maxine Sarpy are there. Cora Allen and the Calanthean temple are represented, as is imagery related to the 1963 desecration of Little Union Baptist Church and Rosie Chaffold’s Allendale Garden of Hope and Love.

Throughout the mural are crows representing oppression and butterflies representing change and metamorphosis. The mural ends with hopes for unity in our city. At the very end are Riley Stewart, a pitcher in the Negro Leagues who played for the Chicago Giants in the ’40s, and Albert Belle, one of the leading sluggers of his time, who played for Cleveland, Baltimore and Chicago teams. From Allendale and members of Galilee Baptist, both men came together in the late ’90s to renovate the stadium.

So much of this history is unknown to many residents of Shreveport. Important stories of overcoming great obstacles and persistently challenging unfair treatment have been covered over and left untold. Our community can only benefit from acknowledging the full truth of our past. While it may be painful for some white people to think about choices our ancestors made, we cannot grow to a more perfect union without recognizing past failures. Awareness of the past allows us to make conscious choices as we move forward as one city, bound together by democracy and love.

The commission will host a celebration for the mural at the stadium on Saturday, July 31.

ON STANDS NOW!

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