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Issue 1

September 27th, 2019

Mural honors Black community members

WED. | 01-27-21 | NEWS

SAT. | 10-10-20 | NEWS

     This past June, a group of 18 artists began working to create a mural honoring Black members of the community on First Street in Uptown Greenville. On Friday, Dec. 11, they were finally allowed to begin painting, and two days later, the street mural was completed.

     The journey to completing the mural, however, was much more complex than those three days make it seem. Following the many Black Lives Matter protests that occurred, many cities began painting street murals to honor the cause. Kevon Gainer’s idea to paint “Black Lives Matter” on a street in Greenville gained support, and a group of Black and brown artists willing to contribute their talents formed. One such artist was Rose art teacher and lead artist of the mural, Randall Leach. 

Photos contributed by Black Voices Matter website

     “One thing that is beautiful about the work [is that] it really is an expression of a moment, and this moment captured exactly what we were going through,” Leach said. “This challenging process was repeating things that people were crying out about.”

     Prior to this project’s proposal, all art proposals were reviewed by the Pitt County Arts Council at Emerge, but just before the project was set to begin, the process was changed. Now, the City Council is in charge of reviewing all proposals, which has significantly prolonged the process and leaves decisions about art in the hands of those who have little to no artistic background.

     Once this particular project presented its proposal in front of the City Council, not only was it delayed, but the phrase to be painted was changed. First it went from “Black Lives Matter” to “Black Lives Matter!” in an effort to show that the statement was not meant to show any affiliation with the Black Lives Matter organization. 

     “We did that and then they apparently said that that wasn’t enough, so then it went to ‘Black Lives Do Matter,’" Leach said. “We thought that that was legit and enough [and] we heard all of a sudden in the meeting that it had completely got changed to ‘Unite Against Racism.’”

     The final change to “Unite Against Racism” was announced in the City Council’s Monday, Nov. 9 meeting. This phrasing was never suggested by the artists and many felt that it carried a different message than they originally intended.

     “I still haven’t had a clear explanation of where [the words] came from, but I assume that they didn’t come from the Black community,” Leach said. “It’s important to know that there has been history that is very unique to Black people in this country ... and to think that taking ‘Black’ out of the phrase is great for everyone, that is disrespecting the fact that this is taking from the issues that are concerning Black people.”

     Several meetings with city officials were held to discuss the artists’ concerns about using the phrase “Unite Against Racism” following the decision. The first was on Thursday, Nov. 12, and the following two were on Friday, Nov. 13. The artists then voted on alternate phrases and decided that “Black Voices Matter” with a fist following the image would be a phrase that they could fully support.  

     “We presented that to the City Council and the response was if we were to try for that one, then it would be under the new policy, which now states that it would have to be presented to the City Council in one month, [and] then it would have to go to the City Council workshop in the next month, and then that third month is when it would be voted on,” Leach said.

     Between the additional three-month delay this would have caused and the risk of the phrase still being changed by the City Council, the artists felt the best option was to accept the phrasing, “Unite Against Racism,” so that they could begin painting and freely expressing inside the letters. 

     All of the original artists were able to participate in the final mural, though many changed their original designs, particularly after undergoing the project’s many setbacks. Leach helped to paint part of the “N” in Unite and chose to use a raised fist as part of his design.

     “Throughout history, the raised fist has been a symbol of unity and solidarity and also opposition and basically strength and courage,” Leach said. “We immediately gravitated towards the first because we feel that this is oppressive and that we are getting oppressed and so it unified us.” 

     Even now that the mural has been painted, it will not be permanent. First Street is scheduled to be repaved this coming March and Leach urges anyone who is interested to go and get the experience of seeing the mural in-person as soon as they can.

      Those who are unable to go see the mural in-person, can still experience it online through the website Rose alumni and East Carolina University Graphics and Animations major Brittany Garza created. The website can be found at

     The artists who participated in the mural will continue to create art together and are in the early stages of forming the Black Creatives of Pitt County, an organization which will function under the Pitt County Arts Council. Currently, they are working to submit a proposal for the Great Jones Mural Project in Durham, but they remain interested in being involved with the local community.

     “We’re not going to go away, we’re not going to be shut down and shut out, we’re going to fill this need and void for having Black voices in the art perspective in Greenville and also Pitt County,” Leach said.

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