Freedom Wall: civil rights leaders featured in new public art

Local artists add color to African-American Heritage Corridor

BUFFALO, N.Y. - There is a facelift in progress at the entrance to the Michigan Street African Heritage Corridor. 

The 300 foot retaining wall at the corner of Michigan Avenue and Ferry Street in Buffalo used to be blank and grey. Now, four local artists are adding some color. 

"It's so historic," Julia Bottoms-Douglas, one of the artists, said. "We're down here in this really like historic space and we're painting these figures that have like paved the way for us not just as artists but as people." 

These Buffalo-bred artists were commissioned by Albright-Knox to paint the portraits of 28 civil rights leaders. 

Though some of the faces are only just taking shape, their features are rather recognizable. 

"To know what they stood for and to know what they sacrificed and we're still having these conversations and dialogues that they were having 50, 60, 100 years ago," Edreys Wajed, another artist, said. "That just amplifies the duty to me. To me that's a duty to have their voices still ringing and echo and their purpose still ring and echo by us bringing them to this wall and to this community." 

Albright-Knox said the initiative came about at the public's request to give passersby something to see but also to tell the story of civil rights and human rights in American history and continue the conversations these leader's started. 

"It's humbling," Bottoms-Douglas said. "It's an honor. But it's so humbling because you think about the fact that we're out here. We're painting them. We're just giving them like a small, tiny little thank you for the things that they've done." 

The artists are using different methods to paint, including brush, marker and spray can. 

The 28 faces that will all eventually be portrayed here were picked by a committee, highlighting national leaders like Dr. King and Malcolm X and local leaders like Frank Merriweather. 

"Living here and being born here is like the most interesting part is some of these people you know and they're still with us and I think that's the most challenging thing to make sure that you really really create something that's really representative of them," John Baker, one of the artists, said.

For these artists, it's a chance to preserve history and leave a legacy of their own. 

Weather permitting, they hope to have the "Freedom Wall" completed by Labor Day Weekend. 

© 2017 WGRZ-TV


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