Local artists celebrate city’s rich civil rights heritage with murals in Atlanta’s West End

If you’ve been to the West End lately, you may have noticed two huge new colorful murals on either side of the Goodwill store on Ralph David Abernathy.

The murals were commissioned by the Elevate Art Festival. While the celebration is being held online this year, it will have a lasting legacy in the West End.

Ashley Dopson is one of the artists commissioned to create a mural for the Elevate Art Festival, even though it’s virtual this year, its host site is Atlanta’s historic West End.

“For me, West End has a very special place in my heart,” said Dopson. “When I was a kid, my dad went to Morehouse and we came here.”

Dopson’s mural is called “Herstory,” a celebration of the “unsung” women of the Civil Rights Movement.

“It was absolutely overwhelming to see it, just so lovely,” said Pearl Cleage. An author, playwright, activist, and Alliance Theater artist in residence, Cleage is featured in the mural.

“I think what art does, I think what culture does, is to not only show us ourselves, but to show us in our neighbors, it shows us to us," she said.

Cleage is pictured alongside other Atlanta Civil Rights heroines; Lottie Watkins, Irene Dobbs Jackson, Abiodun Henderson and more. Art celebrating women, painted by girls in the neighborhood, ages 8-18.

“To see them say, ‘Hey, when we coming back?!” said Dopson, “Or, ‘I know how to do the greytone now!’ It’s allowing me to do what I love to do, which is teach out in the streets.”

Camille Russell Love, executive director of Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs said this is the ninth year for the festival. With the theme of social justice, the West End was the perfect host community.

“Being in the West End,” said Russell Love, “which is an historic African American community in Atlanta, that has a history related to social justice, it all just came together.”

On the other side of the Goodwill building, a mural of Rev James Orange, an important foot soldier for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“I was really happy to see that mural,” said Cleage, “because it makes a space for us to continue talking about who we are, what we want from our community and how we can continue talking together.”

“As I was designing,” said Dopson,  “I’m thinking about, I want people to know that this movement never ended.”

An ongoing movement in a historic community. The six-day festival features dancers, writers, musicians, filmmakers, visual artists and more.

“This is almost like our Harlem Renaissance,” said Dopson. “This is our spot, this is our Harlem. This (West End) is the location where you can find dancers and philosophers and writers and businesswomen and it makes me so proud.”

“What culture does,” said Cleage, “it lets us come together and laugh together, and cry together and argue together sometimes. But it let’s us see ourselves in each other.”

“I know that it will mean a lot to the community as we execute Elevate, but these murals are going to be here once we leave from this community,” said Russell Love.

The Elevate Art Festival is now through Oct. 10th. For more information on how you can participate, click here: https://www.elevateatlart.com/