Thursday, March 20, 2014

History is Among Us Everyday, Winning civil rights monument design incorporates images of heroes, light

Trying to catch up!  Reposting a couple of very important articles.

Winning civil rights monument design incorporates images of heroes, light

California artist's design chosen for memorial

This rendition shows artist Walter Hood's winning concept for a civil rights document to be placed in downtown Nashville. / Submitted

Written by
Alex Beecher
The Tennessean

A sculpture of fragmented walls bearing images of Nashville’s civil rights heroes, accented by three fountains and dramatic lighting, won the approval of the Metropolitan Nashville Arts Commission on Tuesday.
The selection of California artist Walter Hood came after months of controversy over civil rights activists’ involvement on the selection panel for a civil rights monument downtown and over the recruitment of out-of-state artists to make proposals.
Two movement veterans — Matthew Walker Jr. and Gloria McKissack — joined the commission as “subject matter experts” and nonvoting advisers. Both had joined frequent sit-ins and Freedom Rides in the fight for desegregation while they were students at Fisk University and Tennessee A&I State College, now Tennessee State University.
The arts commission staff, in its search for an appropriate artist to take on the project, looked for artists who were experienced in creating public art pieces that referenced historic events and provided “reflective and meditative space.” Hood was chosen out of four artists selected by the commission for the project.
Metro was initially criticized for allotting insufficient money — since bumped up to $300,000 — and for the original site of the project being too small. The arts commission and Nashville residents reached a compromise by increasing the budget and the size of the monument.
Hood’s design will be built on the west side of the Metro Nashville Courthouse, where in 1960 a silent march led to the desegregation of Nashville lunch counters.
His design concept, “Witness Walls,” will use photos of Nashville’s civil rights movement taken from the Nashville Public Library’s Civil Rights Reading Room. The result is a set of fragmented concrete walls of smooth and coarse surfaces from which the figures and scenes emerge and retreat as visitors explore the monument.
“The proliferation of images reminds us that the civil rights movement was a collective endeavor,” said Anne-Leslie Owens, a project coordinator for public art in Metro. “Just as this site once did, the visitors moving through and around it themselves bear witness to the remarkable events and actions that took place here.”
In addition to the images on curved walls, the design includes three small reflective fountains and musical recordings from the civil rights era. Two large lights will illuminate the site from the east. The whole piece measures 32 feet by 48½ feet.
“It is absolutely breathtaking,” said Metro Councilwoman Karen Johnson. “I cannot even wait till they start breaking ground and putting the artwork into place. It is just beautiful.”
The civil rights movement veterans present at the meeting loved the proposal.
“I am delighted,” said McKissack, a history professor at TSU and a lifetime political activist. “It is a historic occasion and I’m moved emotionally by this. You have no idea what this means to us veterans of the movement that you are making this effort.”
Hood, originally from Charlotte, N.C., currently resides in Oakland, Calif..
This installation is expected to be complete sometime in 2015.
Alex Beecher is with Seigenthaler News Service- MTSU. Reach her at

Walter Hood was selected by the Metropolitan Nashville Arts Commission to create the public art commemorating Nashville's role in the civil rights movement.

Artist for Nashville's civil rights memorial to be chosen soon

Some in civil rights movement criticize selection process

Mar. 17, 2014
Matthew Walker Jr., left, who participated in sit-ins protesting the segregation of downtown lunch counters in 1960, chats during a luncheon with the Rev. James Lawson, who trained Walker and other students in nonviolent protest. / George Walker IV / File / The Tennessean
Written by
Michael Cass
A panel of civil rights movement veterans and other citizens has chosen an artist to commemorate the movement and its crucial place in Nashville’s history.
But some people with very personal stakes in that history say they should have had a bigger role in the city’s public art process.
More than a year after it started planning an artistic tribute to the movement that changed the nation — and eight months after it increased the budget and chose a bigger site — the Metro Arts Commission will meet Tuesday to vote on the artist or team of artists the selection panel chose this month. Jennifer Cole, the commission’s executive director, declined to name the expected winner Friday, saying the city’s procurement process remains a work in progress until the commission votes.
The four artists or teams who made presentations to the selection panel areRichard Hunt of Illinois, Colab Studio of Arizona, Andrews LaFevre Studio of New York and Walter Hood of California.
Some Nashville residents who were on the front lines of the movement as college students more than 50 years ago have criticized Metro’s process repeatedly over the past year. They’ve complained about artists coming from out of state, and they’ve said the initial site on Fifth Avenue North was too small and the money originally allotted for the project was insufficient.
The main artwork is now set to go on the Public Square near James Robertson Parkway and Third Avenue North, while a smaller piece will be installed on Fifth Avenue North. The arts commission has budgeted $300,000 for the main piece and $100,000 for the smaller one.
More recently, some movement veterans have wanted voting roles on the selection panel and the Metro Council Minority Caucus has backed them up.
“No one deserves such a role more than they do,” Councilwoman Karen Johnson wrote in a Tennessean op-ed piece in February.

Non-voting positions

Matthew Walker Jr., who put his life on the line participating in sit-ins and Freedom Rides as a Fisk University student in the early 1960s, was one of two movement veterans who were offered non-voting positions on the panel. Walker accepted the offer, listened to the finalists and gave his input to the panelists who had a vote.
But he said the nine-member panel should have included more than one voting member from the Nashville student movement.
“If the city’s going to erect this artwork in commemoration of what the students did in the ’60s, does one representative reflect the value the city places on those who participated?” Walker said.
The panel did include Rip Patton, who was expelled from Tennessee State University in 1961 for participating in the Freedom Rides, as well as Carrie Gentry, who, with her late husband, Howard Gentry Sr., transported students to nonviolence workshops and sit-ins and helped bail them out of jail. Tennessean Chairman Emeritus John Seigenthaler, who was a top aide to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy during the movement and was injured while trying to protect Freedom Riders from a mob in Alabama, also was a member.
Cole, the arts commission’s executive director, said the selection panel was limited to nine people and already was full when council members asked the commission to add Walker and Gloria McKissack to the committee. She said the commission offered to add them as non-voting “subject matter experts,” but McKissack was unable to attend the artists’ presentations due to a death in her family.
Cole said the commission has had numerous public meetings about the project and plans to offer opportunities for the public to talk to the winning artist or team.
“We have a process; it’s the same process we’ve always had,” she said. “We allowed for as much veteran input as we know how to do.”
Reach Michael Cass at 615-259-8838 and on Twitter @tnmetro.

History is among us every day

Trio's input would be vital on civil rights monument

Feb. 20, 2014
People attempt to drag black students from staging a sit-in at an all-white lunch counter in downtown Nashville in February 1960. / file / The tennessean
Written by
Karen Y. Johnson
For Nashville, black history is about more than just a month. It is living, breathing history in our midst — in the people who were part of the civil rights movement here and in the places where they became heroes.
None of the lunch counters remain, none of the places such as S.H. Kress or Harveys or Woolworths still stand. If you know the way, there is an unmarked trail that connects the former sites of the downtown department stores and pharmacies where the movement took place. But what is missing is a marker, a monument that reminds us of the places and the people who made history there.
Now, that is being rectified, and a monument to Nashville’s chapter in the civil rights movement is in the works.
As we plan this monument, we are especially blessed that some of those who made history during the Nashville civil rights movement are among us to point the way.
Folks such as Gloria McKissack, who participated in the lunch counter sit-ins — landmarks in the movement that swept the land. McKissack produced a 2011 documentary that tells of the price paid by young Americans who participated in the Freedom Rides.
“Several students were expelled from school,” said McKissack, who was enrolled in 1961 at Tennessee A&I (today’s TSU), in an interview with the Tennessee Tribune. “Lots of students did not get involved because of the threat of expulsion. My parents in Detroit told me not to get involved. But people make individual choices.”
Then, there is Kwame Lillard, who was significant in making the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee a force for the good in Nashville. Lillard helped to train Freedom Riders and to coordinate Nashville’s part in the Freedom Rides. He was an integral part of the sit-ins, driven by the commitment to nonviolence that he learned from men of God such as Jim Lawson and Kelly Miller Smith.
We still have Matthew Walker Jr., a veteran of the Freedom Rides and the sit-ins in downtown Nashville. He knows what it meant to have the courage to step into places such as McLellans or Grants, Cain-Sloan or Moon McGrath, or Greyhound Trailways, in the days before interstate travel was desegregated by a Supreme Court order.
Walker also has been at the forefront of the call for a monument to memorialize Nashville’s crucial role in the civil rights movement. Now that the call has been heeded, Metro is moving forward to make the monument a reality. Who better to be a part of it than those who lived the history?
Members of the Metro Council Minority Caucus have called on the Metro Arts Commission to name Lillard, McKissack and Walker to the selection committee for the civil rights monument. No one deserves such a role more than they do.
“We didn’t know we were making history,” McKissack told the Tribune in 2011. “But without the Freedom Riders, civil rights legislation may not have been passed.”
In closing, the minority caucus members ask that the arts commission add these deserving and honorable individuals to the selection committee.
Karen Y. Johnson serves as councilwoman for District 29 of Metro Nashville/Davidson County.

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