That Saturday while in Jacksonville, I walked down A. Philip Randolph Boulevard and saw some amazing wall murals.
This was my second time in Jacksonville but my first time venturing places alone and learning of the city where James Weldon Johnson and Zora Neale Hurston once lived.
Every block I walked, I inhaled the amazing culture. I took in the sights of my people Bar-B-Queing on their front lawns and of them walking in and out of shops owned by them. I took in the sounds of R & B, Hip-Hop, Jazz, and Gospel all hovering under the hot still sun. Each couple of blocks I walked, it was a new sound track. I took in the southern hospitality, the smiles and how-do-you-do’s.
I did not expect to see much art though and was surprised when I looked on the side of the Man Cave Barbershop building on the corner of A. Philip Randolph Boulevard and Pippin Street! I saw a colorful wall mural with seven figures. My first instinct was to try to connect with the historical figures. I could only name two.
I knew who Zora was from her trademark hat and I knew James Weldon Johnson. But the rest… I was struggling with. I photographed the mural in different angles. Trying to get past the two cars in the lot.
I found out later through WJCT.org that the mural was painted by the locals, students and artist together. It’s called the “Locals and Legends” mural and it features famous African American’s celebrated throughout history as well as local African Americans celebrated for their work in Jacksonville.
- The first subject on the left, Asa Phillip Randolph, is who the main street is named after. He is known as A. Phillip Randolph and is a natural born leader. He was a civil rights activist, one of the few men who headed the March on Washington, and organized the first African American labor Union (just to list a few).
2. The second one is my heroine Zora Neale Hurston, a writer and anthropologist who is best known for the novel, Their eyes were watching God. I love how she traveled through the south collecting stories from everyday people so that our rich culture would not be lost. She even recorded the southern vernacular. ( I am looking forward to reading her new book that just came out this year Entitled Barracoon: The Story of the Last Slave, it tells the true story of the last known survivor of the slave trade… it’s on my birthday list).
3. The third figure is someone named Clarence Williams, who once owned the building where the art lies.
I had to call around to find out more information about him and spoke to Ms. Pickett who is the curator of street art in Jacksonville (isn’t that a hot job title?) She told me the purpose of the wall murals is to bring in visitors into the East Side of Jacksonville. One of their goals after the painting is done is to set up wall mural tours.
She told me that Clarence Williams was a citizen of Jacksonville in the Eastside. He was an entrepreneur and business owner and passed away a few months before the mural was completed.
4.The fourth figure is Pearlie Graham, the long time owner of nearby Spot Rite Cleaners and the only living subject in the mural. She also owns the building that has the mural of the girls graduating.
5. The fifth figure is James Weldon Johnson, a writer, actor, activist, and most popular for writing the Black National Anthem, Lift Every Voice and Sing.
I just finished one his books, The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man. This book should be placed on every high school summer reading list or read closely during the school year. After visiting his city I found myself reading more of his work to figure out who he really was. I love love Johnson. If you don’t have much time to read, then you should start with his poetry. His poem, ‘The Creation’, sits on the wall in The Ritz Museum in Jacksonville. It is a lyric that retells how the world came to be. The fourth grader who was with me named MJ had just as much fun as I had reading it aloud.
6. The sixth figure is Bullet Bob Hayes, an athlete….I read about him on wiki.
7. The last figure, A.L Lewis, was the president of the (Afro- American) Life Insurance Company, and he also started American Beach, a Nassau County vacation spot for African-Americans during segregation.
And down the street there’s another mural (which I already posted) in progress depicting an old school in Jacksonville for African-American girls which I learned a little history about.
This building is owned by Pearlie Graham. However, the school that this mural represents is closed. It was called The Boylan Haven Mather School and was the first school for African American girls on the East Side. It started out as a school to train girls to be servants.
The school was founded in 1886 and was named for a benefactor, Ann Boylan DeGroot, treasurer of the Newark Conference. She’d hoped to atone for, and change the image of, her family, which had operated two large plantations. In 1901, the school established a nurse training department, which later became Brewster Hospital – the first for African Americans in Jacksonville. (taken from Wikipedia)
I must say here that their modest dressing was what made me take the photo. Believe it or not, this is how I dressed in high school. My mother got the uniform company to make my sisters and I long skirts. Can you spot me in the photo below?