St. Petersburg’s Black Lives Matter Street Mural Misses the Mark
Updated: Oct 1, 2020
On June 5th, Washington D.C. Mayor, Muriel Bowser pulled a boss move. Amid protests across the country in the wake of calls for police to be defunded and a tone-deaf president, the world awoke to street art. She had workers paint BLACK LIVES MATTER in large along 16th Street. In bold “caution” yellow paint, no less.
President Trump’s call for federal law enforcement to address protesters in front of the White House was the last straw for Bowser. She wanted to make it clear that as long as protesters were peaceful, they had every right to assemble on public streets.
Bowser’s decision made a huge impression. Sixteenth Street runs into Lafayette Square, a seven-acre public park located north of the White House. She took the bold move one step further by renaming a portion of 16th Street, Black Lives Matter Plaza.
Since then, at least a dozen other cities have followed suit and painted the slogan on their streets
Cities with Black Lives Matter Street Murals
North Tryon Street in uptown Charlotte, NC
South Elm Street, between February One Place and Washington Street in Greensboro, NC
“End Racism Now” located on North Main Street, Winston-Salem, NC
Cal Anderson Park in Seattle, WA (CHAZ/CHOP Zone)
Fulton Street in Brooklyn, NY
Congress Avenue in Austin, TX
Three blocks along 15th Street in Oakland, CA
Fulton Street between Webster and Octavia streets in San Francisco, CA
The corner of A & Gadsden Streets in Pensacola, FL
East 93rd Street near Union Avenue, in Cleveland, OH
9th Ave S west of 22nd Street in St. Petersburg, FL
Should the Street Murals be Prominently Displayed?
What the majority of these street murals have in common is they are in downtown areas where they are seen by people that need to know black lives matter. Places where they can’t ignore the message like near city hall or popular shopping/dining areas. Cities like Pensacola, Cleveland, and my hometown of St. Petersburg, fall short in this area.
In Gastonia, NC, the approved mural went on a basketball court in a city park. “We can cry about racist people all day, but I wanted to make sure we took the opportunity to empower ourselves while we do that,” said local artist Ezekiel Clay.
His statement mirrors similar sentiment in areas where murals are placed in black neighborhoods.
Who Thought of it First?
We all know the concept belongs to D.C. Mayor, Muriel Bowers.
Before the unveiling of the St. Petersburg mural, the former president of the local chapter of the NAACP, tagged myself and others in a Facebook post. She asked if a mural is created in St. Pete, where should it go? Several people stated Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Street. Others agreed with Ms. Scruggs, the former president, that our very own 16th Street is the preferred spot.
My response was as an African-American, I do not need a reminder that my life matters. For me, considering the racial history of St. Petersburg, a mural would be best served if placed on Central Avenue. Preferably, towards downtown, crossing the intersection of either 16th Street or Dr. King Street would work.
Days after that first post, the word was spreading that Terri Lipsey Scott, Executive Director of the Carter G. Woodson African-American Museum, had approached the city about doing a mural. As the conversation was taking place, a team of artists was busy at work painting a mural on Ninth Avenue South, in front of the museum. It would be unveiled in time to coincide with Juneteenth, the commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States.
Of course, it is possible and reasonable that these two great minds were thinking the same thing at the same time.
What’s Up for Debate?
There is no debate about the hard work that went into the mural. The artists brought in to do the work did a phenomenal job and deserve their accolades. The issue that myself and others have is, why paint a mural in an area of town, and on a street that is not heavily traveled. A street that houses a “museum” that rarely has art exhibits to attract traffic. It is also a street that comes to a dead-end three to four blocks from the mural.
Those in favor of the location will argue the place has historic significance. They are right.