Two years after the Black Humanity Now street mural was painted, organizer Scott Terry is seeking approval, once again, from the City of Racine and its Public Works and Service Committee, as well as the Common Council to repaint the historical street mural.
Today, on Aug. 10, the committee will discuss the matter. Tonight’s meeting will take place at 5:30 p.m. at the City Hall, 730 Washington Ave., Room 303. Communication will be sponsored by Alder Mollie Jones, on behalf of Terry. According to the agenda, the staff recommendation is “that the committee deny the request due to legal matters.”
The proposal will be discussed at the event. Shannon Powell, Chief of Staff and Communications Director from the Office of the Mayor said, “The City Attorney will be discussing the issues that lead to that recommendation at the meeting.”
About the mural
In 2020, the Black Humanity Now Street Art Mural Project came to life as volunteers and artists took to the literal streets to send a message to the community. In reference to an article that was written by the Racine County Eye in 2020, the mural is described as “a grassroots effort to bring attention to the pandemic of police brutality against Black people and to honor the lives lost as a result of hundreds of years of trauma that is the lived Black experience in America.”
In 2020 and continuing in 2022, funding for the project’s creation and maintenance comes from donations. Back in 2020, Terry, who is the owner of Mahogany Gallery, shared with the Racine County Eye, “what I envision is we’ll be back every year to touch up and maintain it.” On the line is his request to do just that.
In 2020, 3,247 signatures were collected in support of the mural. Endorsements from the Racine Coalition for Peace & Justice, Racine Interfaith Coalition, and the Racine Arts Council were also given. Initially, the project received backing from four Racine Common Council members, two Racine County Board members, local businesses, and private citizens.
Today, it is expected by Scott Terry that the “City of Racine, City Attorney and Mayor’s Office is seeking to deny the repainting this year.” However, Alders Mollie Jones and CJ Rouse are in favor of the efforts to repaint. Alderman Henry Perez is also on the committee. In addition, Rouse updated Racinians that Alderperson Sam Pete was added to the Public Works Committee and will be a voting member tonight at the meeting. Vice Chair Melissa Lemke and Alder Amanda Paffrath are also on the committee. Their status of being in attendance tonight is unknown.
“The city attorney (Scott Letteney) let me know that there were two areas of concern,” said Alderman Rouse. “He said the main reason is that it is not legal to artistically paint roads or crosswalks. It’s against the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD).” In addition, Rouse offered his interpretation of what the attorney shared, “he said it was to avoid a first amendment issue. Where because we approved this message, we would not legally be able to refuse if another group came up and wanted to paint something offensive on another street.”
Due to the incident resurfacing, Rouse explained that, while it was approved once, “Scott Letteney said it shouldn’t have been approved back then.”
Details about why the recommendation for denial will be given at tonight’s meeting. Community members are welcome to attend and express their views on the matter by contacting their Alderpeople. Find their contact information online.
Rouse weighs in
“I was upset about the idea of removing this mural only (two) years after its approval. I think they should be grandfathered in and that going forward we can create a street painting ordinance/program like Milwaukee and Madison have,” stated Rouse.
Due to the agenda, he has taken the matter into consideration and investigated painted crosswalks or roads in other cities in Wisconsin.
Rouse’s research included speaking to the City Attorneys, the director of the Department of Public Works, and traffic engineers from Wausau and Steven’s Point. He also spoke with the DOT and program coordinators for both Madison’s and Milwaukee’s street art programs.
“All these cities have their own artistically painted crosswalks or roads,” said Rouse, “and were more than willing to show me why they think it is legal and not an issue.”
When speaking of the issue from the city’s leadership standpoint, Rouse did not shy away from his opinion and that of his constituency.
“It shows that the commitment and message of support that was given two years ago was shallow/disingenuous,” explained Rouse. “Action like this is supposed to be uncomfortable; it’s sad how quickly they are willing to abandon people like Scott (Terry) and run away from possible conflict.”
Terry asks for support
“The mural was the backdrop for educational youth classes for them to learn about American history, social justice and how art had always been a central component of these movements,” shared Terry in a Facebook post.
He expressed that the community support behind him and the mural is greatly appreciated. He further encouraged the public to weigh in online.
“A voice(mail), email, letter of support would be helpful to demonstrate to the committee and the city why we should keep the landmark, and the message,” implored Terry.