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MLK39 Mural Unveiled on Juneteenth in West Hartford Center

Ella Baker, Martin Luther King Jr. and Bernard Lafayette on the West Hartford Public Library wall. Photo credit: Sophie Christensen

A series of speakers, including Mayor Shari Cantor, State Rep. Tammy Exum, and Dr. Roszena Haskins introduced West Hartford’s new mural to a crowd of about 100 people gathered in the courtyard below the library stairway.

West Hartford’s MLK39 Racial Equity Mural spans the entire side and a portion of the front of the Noah Webster Library in the Center. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

By Sophie Christensen

After months of planning and community input, nationally-recognized artist Corey Pane’s striking mural design now spans the entire side wall of the Noah Webster Library in Blue Back Square, and even wraps around the corner to the front of the building, making a strong statement about the town’s commitment to civil rights.

Amanda Gorman quote. Photo Credit: Sophie Christensen

This silhouette’s hair has names of those killed injustly by police brutality, as well as names of enslaved people held in West Hartford. Photo Credit: Sophie Christensen

Six civil rights leaders appear in the mural, along with quotes from Vice President Kamala Harris, and National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman. The mural also features a silhouette of a Black woman’s head, whose hair contains the names of those killed unjustly by police brutality, and of those formerly enslaved in West Hartford. Under the silhouette, seven mason jars spell out “freedom.” Lastly, towards the Blue Back Square side, two hands release a white dove, while breaking the chains that bind the hands together.

Two hands free a dove as they break the chains that bind them together. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

The dove is “a messenger for peace and love,” Pane explained.

Ella Baker, Martin Luther King Jr., and Bernard LaFayette, with Corey Pane painting. Photo Credit: Ronni Newton

On the other side of the main wall, portraits of Ella Baker, Martin Luther King Jr., and Bernard LaFayette appear in front of a rainbow. All three were important activists during the civil rights movement. A quote from Gorman is below them, close to the stairs.

Judy Casperson, Tammy Exum, and Gertrude Blanks above a quote from Vice President Kamala Harris. Photo Credit: Sophie Christensen

Facing South Main Street, Judy Casperson, Tammy Exum, and Gertrude Blanks appear above the words of Vice President Harris: “I may be the first woman … But I won’t be the last.”

“I believe that Judy, Gertrude, and I were featured together because we represent ‘firsts’ in our community,” said State Rep. Tammy Exum after the dedication of the mural. “It’s hard to believe, but in 2013 I was the first Black person on the Board of Education.” Exum, who currently holds the 19th district seat in the General Assembly, was also West Hartford’s first Black state representative.

In 2008, Casperson was the first African American elected to West Hartford’s Town Council, on which she served four terms.“I just set out to make a difference, and in doing so I made history … you can do it, too,” said Casperson during the dedication.

Jedda Williams at MLK39 mural dedication. Photo credit: Sophie Christensen

Blanks was the first African American who graduated from Hall High School. She was also an activist with Hartford Stage and the Artist Collective, a part of the Grandparent Program, and “one of the greatest storytellers of Hartford Public Schools,” said Jedda Williams at the dedication ceremony. Though Blanks is no longer alive today, her legacy lives on through the mural.

State Rep. Tammy Exum at MLK39 mural dedication. Photo Credit: Sophie Christensen

“What’s important is that we’re not the last,” Exum said. That’s why it’s particularly poignant to have our faces above the quote by Vice President Harris.

Mayor Shari Cantor at MLK39 mural Dedication. Photo Credit: Sophie Christensen

Mayor Shari Cantor offered words of praise for those who organized the mural, and the whole West Hartford community, for supporting the goals of the project. “We have a bright future because we care, and because we’re all in this together,” said the mayor.

Adrienne Billings-Smith at MLK39 mural dedication. Photo credit: Sophie Christensen

To conclude the ceremony, Adrienne Billings-Smith, one of the main minds behind the mural and West Hartford’s Juneteenth observance, also commended the town’s eagerness to make the mural a reality. “From the signs on our lawns, to protests … to celebrating Juneteenth,” the community of West Hartford came together to support the cause.

“When you see [the images] on that mural today, I want you to remember that there was some wonderful history made right here, in West Hartford,” Williams said.

Pane, a West Hartford resident, is well-known for painting the cleats of professional athletes. He also painted a mural inside West Hartford’s BIRDCODE restaurant, and a tributary mural for rapper Nipsey Hussle in Hartford. He has worked with CT Murals, one of the project’s partners, several times in the past.

This mural, a part of the MLK39 initiative, continues an effort to recognize and honor the 39 years of MLK’s life. West Hartford’s installation of this project was completed through partnerships with CT Murals, the Town of West Hartford, the CT Center for Nonviolence, Concerned Parents of Color, Unity Green Committee, and West Hartford African American Social and Cultural Organization (WHAASCO), as well as other members of the community and organizations, including the town’s youth.

Silhouette with names and hands with bird. Photo credit: Sophie Christensen

The dove, “a messenger for peace and love.” Photo credit: Sophie Christensen

Reverend Sonia Green at MLK39 mural dedication. Photo credit: Sophie Christensen

Rosmarie Tate and Judy Casperson (right) at MLK39 mural dedication. Photo credit: Sophie Christensen

Dr. Roszena Haskins at MLK39 mural dedication. Photo credit: Sophie Christensen

Jedda Williams at MLK39 mural dedication. Photo credit: Sophie Christensen

Singer at MLK39 mural dedication. Photo credit: Sophie Christensen

Geeno Gordon, Vice President of Concerned Parents of Color, performing a poem at MLK39 mural dedication. Photo credit: Sophie Christensen

Dr. Mark Overmeyer-Valasquez and State Rep. Tammy Exum at MLK39 mural dedication. Photo credit: Sophie Christensen

Matt Conway, founder and executive director of the RiseUP Group at MLK39 mural dedication. Photo credit: Sophie Christensen

School of Rock performers at MLK39 mural dedication. Photo credit: Sophie Christensen

Carol Blanks, Judy Casperson, Tammy Exum, Lorna Thomas Farquharson, and Rosmarie Tate pose in front of the mural Sunday morning. Courtesy photo

Judy Casperson (left) and Tammy Exum stand in front of the mural bearing their likenesses as well as the image of Gertrude Blanks. Photo courtesy of Tiffani McGinnis

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Sophie Christensen

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