Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

September 26, 2013

Coming soon

New floodwall murals will honor city's black residents

The Independent

ASHLAND — After a break of several years, two new murals are about the be added to Ashland’s floodwall. Both will celebrate  the impact of Ashland’s small black population. While never representing more than a tiny percentage of the city’s population, blacks have contributed much more  to the history and cultural and spiritual life of this community than their numbers would indicate.

The two murals being painted by Jerry Johnson, Ashland’s talented black artist, will attempt to capture the essence of that contribution.

The first mural to be painted will feature six historic black churches in the area. The churches include New Hope Baptist Church, Johnson Memorial Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, Christ Temple Church, and St. James African Methodist in Ashland, plus a small A.M.E. church in Greenup and an unnamed church in Russell. 

A second mural will be a tribute to the 1947 class of Booker T. Washington School, an all-black school that was on Central Avenue where Dawson Pool now is. The mural will show the school, along with alumni and teachers. The basketball team and the marching band also will be depicted.

The United Communities to Advance our Neighborhoods, or UCAN, has  committed to paying for the murals, which will cost an estimated $20,000. UCAN, a nonprofit founded by the dynamic and talented Brenda Martin, has yet to raise that much money for the murals, but it has decided to start work on the murals as a step of faith,

“We have faith that as people see them growing, they will want to support and be a part of this multicultural project,” said Martin. “We are glad to see it happen and I believe the excitement will be shared with the area and they will come forth with the support.”

Martin admits raising funds for the murals “has been a very long journey.” Here’s hoping Martin’s faith will be rewarded and the murals will be unveiled and dedicated debt-free.

“Jerry is a wonderful artist and I know he is going to bring a lot of vitality and color and artistic creativity to the walls and that area that has become a good attraction and a source of pride for the community,”  Martin said. We hope she’s right.

Work on the murals is expected to begin Tuesday. Martin hopes the first mural depicting the churches will be completed before winter.

That mural will be dedicated to the late Suffragan Bishop Elzy Thomas, who died this year. Thomas, who led Christ Temple Church for more than half a century, was a vocal supporter of the project, as well as an outspoken community advocate. He also was a 1950 graduate of the Booker T. Washington School. Thomas was one of the best liked and admired people in this community, and that should help the fund-raising efforts.

Those who would like to donate to the project can do so through UCAN Inc. Donations are tax deductible. Checks can be mailed to UCAN at P.O. Box 104 Russell, KY 41169-0104. Those who send checks should note the donation is for the mural project. For more information, email Brenda Martin at ucanhelp@windstream.net.

Although not nearly as visible as the floodwall murals in neighboring Catlettsburg, the murals in Ashland have  brought a beautiful transformation to what was a rather unattractive floodwall that has protected this city from the rising waters of the Ohio River for decades. The two murals by Jerry Johnson will further enhance the floodwall and remind people that blacks have played and continue to play a significant role in our history.