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From worker-brc-news@lists.tao.ca Mon Jul 31 06:41:58 2000
Date: Sun, 30 Jul 2000 16:40:07 -0400
From: Mike Alewitz <alewitzm@mail.ccsu.edu>
Subject: [BRC-NEWS] Baltimore: Give a Wall
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AgitProp News, 17 June 2000.
Special Issue: Harriet Tubman: Armed and Dangerous

Give a Wall

By Mike Alewitz <alewitzm@mail.ccsu.edu>, Baltimore Sun, 25 July 2000

There will be no justice and there will be no peace in this country until the United States faces up to this truth: The great wealth of this country was built on the backs of slave labor.

THE RACIST defacement of my mural in Harford County has once again put a spotlight on "The Dreams of Harriet Tubman." This series of murals, a gift to the people of Maryland, has generated significant public scrutiny and debate. As the artist involved, I would like to provide some insight into this work.

I was invited by Baltimore Clayworks, an artist's organization with a deep commitment to community involvement, to create a series of works in Maryland. I was one of 54 artists selected nationally by the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation as part of its program "Artists and Communities: America Creates for the Millennium."

Clayworks and activists from the Underground Railroad movement had been discussing the possibilities of work about the Underground Railroad and Harriet Tubman. Their initiative corresponded with my own thinking -- that this subject was an important one and one that was timely.

Harriet Tubman was a revolutionary who not only envisioned the future, but acted to create that vision.

"The Dreams of Harriet Tubman" was designed to give visual expression to her visions and to the great revolution that overthrew slavery, one of the seminal occurrences in American and world history.

"Dreams" will be a necklace of murals painted across Maryland. They will form one unified work.

The murals are to be anchored by a dramatic image on a major wall in Baltimore City. It will depict Harriet Tubman as she was known: Moses.

Harriet is shown parting the seas of reaction, as she did in her life. Her staff is the rifle that she carried. The children of Israel are the slave armies who resisted their bondage and joined the Union ranks to defeat the South. Drowning in the tide is Pharaoh's tribe: the slavers and other forces of reaction.

Harriet's massive skirts will be a quilt of silhouettes formed by tracing the outlines of visitors to the site, who would climb the lower rungs of the scaffold and stand against the wall. In this way the living activists of today will become a part of the mural, literally the body of Harriet Tubman.

At the sides of the mural, and in the smaller walls in other localities, will be a series of vignettes based on Harriet's visions: Her dreams about the Amistad and Nat Turner slave rebellions; her work with Frederick Douglass, John Brown and other abolitionists; her success as a conductor of the Underground Railroad; leadership as a spy, scout and guerilla in the military conquest of the South, championing of the women's suffrage movement; and experience as a nurse and educator.

When the mural in Harford County was attacked, the leaders of that community -- educators, civil rights, religious and political leaders -- immediately united to repudiate the racists and announce their determination to complete the mural and continue to teach about Tubman and her movement.

Will the people of Baltimore show the same determination as we continue to search for an appropriate wall for this work?

The working people of this city have made it clear that they support this project. But while this backing is good, we still find ourselves seeking a wall in a prominent location with institutional support.

I believe it is important to complete this artistic and educational project. The reason is simple.

There will be no justice and there will be no peace in this country until the United States faces up to this truth: The great wealth of this country was built on the backs of slave labor. The descendants of those slaves remain the victims of a vicious racism, unable to enjoy the fruits of what their ancestors created.

"The Dreams of Harriet Tubman" will be painted -- if not in Baltimore, then elsewhere in Maryland; if not in Maryland, then another state. And if I cannot find a wall in the United States, then I will go to another country. But, one way or another, it will be painted.

We are appealing to the people of Baltimore to provide us with a wall. This is where Harriet belongs -- in glorious color -- as a symbol of the ongoing struggle for social justice.

Mike Alewitz is a muralist and is on the art faculty at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain, Conn. This article was written in Baltimore.

Copyright (c) 2000 by The Baltimore Sun.

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