Encompassing a 565-foot-long stretch of Fulton Street between New York and Brooklyn Avenues in Brooklyn, a freshly-painted Black Lives Matter (BLM) mural is a sight to behold. The name of the movement at the heart of ongoing demonstrations against anti-Black violence and systemic racism is spelled in gargantuan yellow block letters, followed by over 150 names of victims of racist killings. Among them are George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, whose deaths catalyzed this year’s historic demonstrations; Rayshard Brooks, a recent victim of police brutality in a Wendy’s parking lot; and Riah Milton and Dominque “Rem’Mie” Fells, two Black trans women.
In a community effort led by the Billie Holiday Theater at Restoration Plaza and NYC Council Member Robert Cornegy Jr., volunteers began painting the mural on Saturday, June 13. Among those present at the kick-off were filmmaker Spike Lee, Reverend Al Sharpton, NYC Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, and state Attorney General Letitia James.
Billie Holiday Theater Director Dr. Indira Etwaroo conceived of the design, featuring rectangular yellow bars representing open caskets — a visual tribute to Mamie Till Bradley, who held an open casket funeral for Emmet Till, her Black son brutally murdered by two white men in the 1950s. Mamie Till’s decision to publicly display the violence waged on Emmet’s body inspired the Civil Rights Movement.
“We join with other cities across the country and say that this is our open casket to the world — laying bare the senseless and continued killings of Black people. In order to heal and to move forward, we must address that the current systems in place are inadequate to ensure life and liberty for all people,” said Etwaroo in a statement shared with Hyperallergic. “That is what this mural stands for here in Brooklyn, home to the largest African American community in the nation. The artists are speaking truth to power.”
Artist Cey Adams, who completed an American flag mural for the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, was the creative director behind the installation of the names, while artist Dawud West oversaw the painting of the “Black Lives Matter” portion of the mural. It resembles similar ones painted across the nation, notably in Washington, DC, where Mayor Muriel Bowser had “Black Lives Matter” painted on the street that leads to the White House days after President Trump ordered the National Guard to crack down on protesters in the city.
Brooklyn’s version is in the historically Black neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant, the birthplace of notable African American figures like Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to Congress.
“As a person who has had a racial incident happen to me here in New York, this mural has given me hope, and so much peace in my heart to know that people are fighting for us,” Linda Shell, a resident of the neighborhood who was assisting in painting the mural, told Hyperallergic.
Brooklyn’s mural got its finishing touches yesterday as similar works in other parts of the country are being defaced. In Florissant, Missouri, four people were photographed painting over the words “Black Lives Matter” with a blue line as local police stood by. Another street mural in Nyack, in upstate New York, was covered in skid marks after two motorcyclists rode through it on Saturday, prompting protests.
“I hope that everyone who takes in these words and names comes away with renewed spirit, drawing strength from those whose protest and leadership came before. Let’s keep both parts of this incredible mural alive, the one emblazoned here on Fulton Street and the one we hold in our hearts and deeds going forward,” Cornegy said in the statement.
The Black Lives Matter mural in Brooklyn is one of several planned for sites across the city’s five boroughs, including one that Mayor Bill de Blasio reportedly plans to have painted outside Trump Tower in Manhattan. The mayor will also name a street after the movement in each borough.
The Bed-Stuy mural was unveiled this past Sunday with a ceremony featuring performances by artists Carl Hancock Rux and Marcelle Lashley. More than 20 Brooklyn-based artists contributed to its production, including Aaron Simius, Afalau Muhammad, Aleathea Sapp Jimenez, Ali Rose Dachis, Antoinne Thomas, Apollonia Tikki, Ava Tomlinson, Cassandra Greene, Cey Adams, Dawud West, Dengil Belinle, Devon Shell, Diego Anaya, Donna Mason, Elton Leonard, Falisha Davis, Gloria Braxton, Imani Pringle, Jonanthan Weekes, Kahlil Jfantau, Larry Weekes, Maninga Pekason, Marcia Wilson, Marienne, Melvin Isau, Mercedes Ortega, Monique Carboni, Nicholas Love, Rashid F Dav, Richard Ramea, Samra Guenmdu, Stanley Lambert, Stephen Edwards, Tanda Francis, Tomas Hull, Tupell Beard, Valerie Williams, Wilma Ward, and Yuena Despagne.
The NYC departments of Transportation, Sanitation, and Buildings provided support for the project, and paint was supplied by Benjamin Moore.