A New Mural Honors African American Community Leaders

September 30, 2021

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Local community organizations are excited to announce the completion of a new mural honoring Black civic leaders from Chapel Hill and Carrboro. Painted by artist Kiara Sanders, the African American Trailblazers mural celebrates twelve people who helped to shape and improve our community. The mural is located where Chapel Hill and Carrboro meet, at 111 S. Merritt Mill Road, home to two Black-owned businesses: Walt’s Grill and Ms. Molly’s Gift Shop.

The mural features twelve African American pioneers who were vital to Chapel Hill and Carrboro’s history. Honorees include:

  • Rev. Dr. L.H. Hackney, pastor and founder of the first Black high school
  • Nurse Adelia Compton, the first Black employee for the Town of Chapel Hill
  • Ms. Valerie Paige Foushee, North Carolina State Senator
  • Ms. Addie Robinson, director and founder of Holmes Day Care at Hargraves Community Center
  • Mr. Thurman Atkins, developer and entrepreneur
  • Mr. Howard Lee, the only Black mayor of Chapel Hill and the first Black mayor in the South
  • Mr. Bynum &  Mrs. Susie Weaver, artists, musicians, and entrepreneurs
  • Ms. Barbara Booth Powell, Chapel Hill Town Council, educator, and politician
  • Mr. William D. Peerman, championship winning coach, mentor, and educator and the first Black head football coach at Chapel Hill High School
  • Mr. Walter Riggsbee, HVAC builder and entrepreneur
  • Rev. Dr. J.R. Manley, former pastor of the Rock Hill-First Baptist and Hickory Grove Baptist Church and community leader

Mural artist Kiara Sanders is a recent art studies graduate from North Carolina Central University and is known for several art projects around the Triangle, including the new Art + Transit bus stop on Rogers Road. Sanders was selected for this work based on her project concept and aesthetic, which was influenced by the regal color palates often used in murals by Harlem Renaissance artist Aaron Douglas.

Over several weeks, Sanders primed, prepped, and finetuned each portrait to most accurately reflect images of the honorees. At one point, the wall was covered entirely in numbers as a method to transpose each image to scale. Sanders wanted to make sure the community would be inspired to learn more when they came across the art. “It’s an honor to be able to tap into this history, “ says Sanders, “You can come across this work and look at the faces and wonder to yourself ‘who is that?’ and then that can start a whole new conversation about how we introduce people who paved the way for us to live and thrive.”

The community is invited to help keep history alive by engaging with the African American Trailblazers project:

Several organizations collaborated to make the mural a reality. The idea originated with the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Area Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. Other organizations involved include Chapel Hill Community Arts & Culture, the Town of Carrboro, the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership, the Orange County Arts Commission, and the North Carolina Arts Council. “This is how collaboration works, when people come together with the same mindset to accomplish a common goal,” says Dianne Pledger, a member of the CHCAA Chapter of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Incorporated.

To learn more about mural, visit chapelhillarts.org/aatrailblazers. To learn more about the planning partners involved, visit the links below:

CHCAA Chapter of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority: www.chcaa-dst.org

Chapel Hill Community Arts & Culture: chapelhillarts.org

Town of Carrboro: townofcarrboro.org

Orange County Arts Commission: artsorange.org

Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership: downtownchapelhill.com

NC Arts Council: ncarts.org/