New Mural To Celebrate Black Trailblazers of Chapel Hill and Carrboro

July 26, 2021

A new mural will start to take shape this week at 111 S. Merritt Mill Road, where Chapel Hill and Carrboro meet. The mural will celebrate 12 Black “trailblazers” who helped shape and improve our community. Triangle-based artist Kiara Sanders will be working on the mural over the next several weeks and expects to complete it by mid-August.

The mural will be on the north side of the building, which houses two Black-owned businesses, Walt’s Grill and Ms. Molly’s Gift Shop. The mural will feature an assembly of portraits of Black community leaders, from educators and entrepreneurs to religious and civic leaders:

  • Valerie Paige 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, educator, and politician
  • Bynum & 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, and educator and the first Black athletic coach at Chapel Hill High School
  • Rev. Dr. J.R. Manley, former Pastor of the Rock Hill-First Baptist and Hickory Grove Baptist Church and community leader
  • Walter Riggsbee, HVAC builder and entrepreneur
  • Dr. L.H. Hackney, Pastor and founder of the first Black high school
  • Thurman Atkins, developer and entrepreneur

The idea for the mural originated with the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Area Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Incorporated. The chapter has 119 members and is committed to serving the community through a variety of ongoing programs and special projects emphasizing the Five-Point Programmatic Thrust of the sorority (Economic Development, Physical and Mental Health, International Awareness and Involvement, Educational Development, Political Awareness and Involvement).

Other community partners have come on board to make this mural a reality including the Town of Chapel Hill Community Arts & Culture, the Town of Carrboro, the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership, and the Orange County Arts Commission. Jemma Boler, Chapter President, says that the partners came together quickly around the project. “Once we shared the concept of the mural, everyone we approached saw the need to honor these community members and the value that a mural like this brings to downtown,” Boler said.

Through a selection process, the project partners chose Kiara Sanders, a Black artist from Apex. Sanders expressed that this project will be strongly influenced by the artworks of Harlem Renaissance artist Aaron Douglas, “His figures often had auras that seemed to radiate from them, giving them a powerful presence that I feel would be fitting for the trailblazing African American people this mural is dedicated to,” Sanders said.

Steve Wright, Town of Chapel Hill public art coordinator, coordinated the selection process and says that Sanders was chosen for the strength of her concept and her creative aesthetic. “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.

More information about the project and the people honored will be released over the coming weeks with an official unveiling announcing the completion at the end of August. To learn more about Delta Sigma Theta, visit www.chcaa-dst.org. To learn more about the planning partners involved, visit the links below:

Chapel Hill Community Arts & Culture: chapelhillarts.org

Town of Carrboro: townofcarrboro.org

Orange County Arts Commission: artsorange.org

Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership: downtownchapelhill.com