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