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New Mural In Downtown West Palm Beach Spotlights Unsung Civil Rights Heroes

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Street Art Revolution
Street Art Revolution: Downtown Mural Art Program presents Icons of the Civil Rights Movement. From left to right: Fannie Lou Hamer, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcom X, Harriet Tubman, John Lewis, Kathleen Neal Cleaver, Augustus Savage, and Ella Baker

A new mural at a Downtown West Palm Beach landmark honors both well-known and lesser-known leaders in the civil rights movement — unsung heroes who often worked behind-the-scenes for social progress in society and art.

Caron Bowman is the founder of Street Art Revolution, a public arts firm and artist-led collective. She said it’s one of the few Black-owned public art firms in the United States that designs and curates culturally relevant public art.

“This is Black history but it’s also American history,” Bowman said. “I want them [spectators] to look at these people on that mural — to see them in the same vein as our founding fathers. These people are freedom fighters and that’s a quintessential American quality.”

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Bowman selected culturally sensitive artists for the project “who had a great affinity for this history in particular.”

Artists Tracy Guiteau, Dahlia Perryman, Eduardo Mendieta, and Nate Dee used various styles to create the mural.

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Street Art Revolution
In the beginning phase of the mural. Left to Right: Nate Dee, Tracy Guiteau, Eduardo Mendieta and Dahlia Perryman

The installation includes Augusta Savage, a Harlem Renaissance sculptor, art teacher, and president of the Harlem Artists Guild during the 1930s.

Savage was raised in West Palm Beach before heading north. Bowman said Savage also had close art and business ties with George Currie, a developer and civic leader — locals may know Currie by a local park named in his honor.

Bowman says Savage deserves to be honored because she fought for public murals and commissions for Black artists as an assistant supervisor in the Federal Arts Project, a department within the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in the '30s.

Savage’s career, art, and recognition declined throughout the years after a lack of support, resources and instances of racism.

“And one of the problems that African-American artists and people of color have in public art is that a lot of times they're not able to gain the opportunities necessary to build the portfolios to where they can compete in the mainstream public art arena, “ Bowman said.

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Street Art Revolution
Left to right: Augusta Savage, Ella Baker

Bowman said Savage is an “unsung hero of the African-American arts movement.” And that art aficionados and history buffs throughout the city are showing full support.

“Many people feel it’s about time cause it’s the first time we’ve had a mural in this city [of] West Palm Beach that profiles African American culture in this way as well as civil rights leaders. The only other mural they have is Louis — that’s on Tamarind Avenue that profiles Louis Armstrong,” Bowman said. “This one profiling national figures is probably the first civil rights mural that we’ve had in the city.”

To bring the project to life, Street Art Revolution collaborated with the West Palm Beach Arts & Entertainment District, the West Palm Beach Downtown Development Authority, and Subculture Group.

People can view Fannie Lou Hamer, Augusta Savage, Ella Baker, and Kathleen Neal Cleaver, alongside well-known figures like John Lewis, Harriet Tubman, and Martin Luther King Jr. at the Respectable Street Wall on 518 Clematis Street in Downtown West Palm Beach.

Bowman says this mural is a rare feat in the city, viewing it as an opportunity to educate people, highlighting the “massive impact” of the lesser-known figures.

Wilkine Brutus is a reporter and producer for WLRN and a guest faculty member at the Poynter Institute. The South Florida native produces stories on topics surrounding local news, culture, art, politics and current affairs.