Georgia church’s mural honors prominent and lesser-known civil rights leaders

Posted Aug 25, 2023

A painter works on the mural created by Christ the King Episcopal Church, Valdosta, Georgia, on the side of its building to honor prominent and lesser-known civil rights leaders. The mural was dedicated on Aug. 19. Photo: Diocese of Georgia

[Diocese of Georgia] Christ the King Episcopal Church in Valdosta, Georgia recently completed a new mural project that adorns one of the walls of its downtown church building adjacent to Mack’s Park and features portraits of prominent civil rights leaders and other lesser known rights advocates.

The mural includes many well-known people connected with the 20th century civil rights movement, including Martin Luther King, Jr., John Lewis, Malcom X, Howard Thurman and Maya Angelou, but it also includes the Rev. Anna Alexander, a deaconess the Diocese of Georgia has recognized as a saint since 1998.

Also depicted are Harriet Tubman, a formerly enslaved woman who escaped and helped others gain their freedom as a “conductor” of the Underground Railroad, and Marsha P. Johnson, a trans woman who was one of the most prominent figures of the gay rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s in New York City.

Two others who were local victims of racial violence also are shown: a tree with a female body representing Mary Turner, a Black woman who was eight-months pregnant when she was lynched near Valdosta in 1918; and Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man who was murdered in Gwynn County in 2020.

Stretched across the mural is a rainbow-colored ribbon that includes lyrics and notes of “Strange Fruit,” a song first sung in the 1930s by Billie Holiday that refers to people being lynched.

Georgia Bishop Frank Logue (front left) and Catherine Meeks (front right) join Taylor Shaw, Junior Warden Michael Noll, Diocese of Georgia Archdeacon Yvette Owens and A’Shadrian Clayton in front of the mural that was dedicated at Christ the King in Valdosta. The mural was painted by Shaw and Clayton. Photo: Diocese of Georgia

The mural was dedicated on Aug. 19 by Georgia Bishop Frank Logue. In remarks noted in the Valdosta Daily Times, Logue described the value of visual stories to the current and future generations.

“The stories that we tell and the stories that we fail to tell say a lot about a community … and in putting forward a magnificent piece of art like this,” he said. “It presents to future generations, our children and grandchildren, images that they need to ask about and that we need to tell them about … so that they see faces that you might not see otherwise.” he said.

Catherine Meeks, executive director of the Atlanta-based Absalom Jones Episcopal Center for Racial Healing, also was present. She described the importance of bearing witness against inequality, injustice, racism and sexism.

“We sit here in the middle of a time when people think that anything you choose to make up about history will be good enough, as long as you don’t have to deal with the truth. And we have to find ways to stand against that,” Meeks said as quoted in the Valdosta newspaper.

Michael Noll, Christ the King’s junior warden, told the paper this mural reflected the church’s beliefs. “In the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr., our church works toward a society that is based on justice, equality and compassion for all members of the human race. To accomplish this, we must tell the truth about our communities and ourselves, dismantle racism and homophobia, repair breaches in our neighborhoods, and become reconcilers, justice-makers and healers in the name of Christ.”

The mural artists are Taylor Shaw, a former Valdosta State University art professor, and Shay Clayton, a Valdosta State art student. On Aug. 21 the church reported on its Facebook page it has raised the entire $15,000 needed to fund the project.