New Chapel Hill-Carrboro mural celebrates local Black trailblazers

August 30, 2021

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At a junction of Chapel Hill and Carrboro where the two towns meet, a new mural featuring local Black trailblazers is nearing completion.

The mural recognizes and celebrates 12 Black trailblazers and their contribution to the local community.

Located at 111 S. Merritt Mill Rd., artist Kiara Sanders said she planned the mural in a place with historic significance.

“We decided to place it on this particular building because it is home to two Black-owned businesses called Walt’s Grill and Ms. Molly’s Gift Shop,” Sanders said.

Steve Wright, the public art coordinator for the Town of Chapel Hill, organized the process that selected Sanders as the mural artist.

“Kiara’s portfolio shows her skill with portraying people in a way that is both stylized and realistic, allowing their humanity to shine through,” Wright said in a press release.

Sanders, who began her work on the mural in mid-July, wants the piece to draw people in.

“I decided to use vibrant colors so that when people drive or walk by these faces that I’ve painted, it will be eye-catching and they will want to stop and learn,” she said.

Sanders expects to complete it in the first week of September.

The individuals featured on the mural include:

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

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro Area Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. formulated the idea for the mural. The sorority works on different projects in the area and keeps the community informed on important and current social issues.

“We are excited to finally be able to highlight African Americans that have made significant contributions to the community of Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Orange County through this mural,” said Dianne Peerman Pledger, chairperson of the education committee of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Area Alumnae Chapter.

She said the idea of the mural came about 15 years ago.

“The mural will tell the history, educate young people in the community and will celebrate the contributions of African Americans in our community,” Pledger said.

Although the Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority were the ones to spearhead the mural and lead the production, other community leaders played significant roles to help orchestrate the piece, she said.

“Our sorority alone could not fit the entire bill, so the Town of Chapel Hill, the Orange County Arts Commission, the Town of Carrboro, the Chapel Hill Partnership and community members teamed up with us to make donations towards the production of the mural,” Pledger said.

It was important to the artist, Sanders and the rest of the team to make sure these 12 Black trailblazers are recognized and always remembered.

“My hope is that people will see my mural and see these faces and ask themselves, ‘Who are these people?'” Sanders said. “Then they will be encouraged to learn about the community and the impact these figures have had on it.”

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