Social Justice Street Art
Tuesday, July 6, 2021
Over 50 years later, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s fight for civil rights acts as a reminder of the urgency to continue the battle to this day. When you visit the bold works of street art that depict Dr. King and many other key figures in the civil rights movement, you can’t help but feel inspired.
While dealing with the constant struggles in urban landscapes, artists and community organizations from Detroit to L.A. “understand that the conversation around equal rights—not just about voting but also affordable housing, reproductive rights, marriage equality, and more—shouldn’t be confined to the pages of dusty textbooks.” (1)
Civil Right Street Art in Atlanta, GA Creates Celebrates Key Figures of Unification
11 local and national artists formed a project called Off the Wall. They covered the exterior walls of downtown businesses and community centers with art that celebrates past and present civil rights figures.
Muhammad Yungai’s “We Shall Always March Ahead” on Sunset Avenue commemorates Atlanta native Martin Luther King, Jr., and other 1950s-era leaders of the Civil Rights Movement.
Impressive Murals by the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program
The City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program is responsible for several impressive murals throughout the city, including “Remembering a Forgotten Hero,” a portrait of civil rights activist Octavius Catto by Keir Johnston and Willis Nomo Humphrey. (1)
“The commanding head-and-shoulders portrait of Catto by Willis “Nomo” Humphrey and Keir Johnston is five stories tall. It’s one of many works commissioned by the robust Mural Arts Philadelphia program, which has been installing artworks that highlight local community issues on the walls of the City of Brotherly Love for more than 30 years.” (1)
A Six- Story-Tall Mural in Memphis, TN Portrays Key Figures from Civil Rights History
Painted on a downtown parking garage on the corner of Main and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue in Memphis, TN, stands a six-story-tall mural that depicts key sites and figures from the 1960s civil rights movement. The UrbanArt Commission brought in artists Michael Roy (also known as Birdcap) and Derrick Dent to create this mural that’s part of the Memphis Heritage Trail.
Eight Mile Wall in Detroit, MI Reminds Us of Our Nation’s History of Racial Segregation
In the 1940s, a divider was built to separate a new white development from an existing black neighborhood in Detroit. This was a time when housing discrimination was among the most urgent civil rights issues. The half-mile-long wall, now called the Eight Mile Wall, was painted in 2006 by community activists with colorful, uplit murals that feature positive messages about peace and community.
A Mural in Montgomery, AL Commemorates a Historical Civil Rights March
In downtown Montgomery, the nation’s first memorial devoted to examining the legacy of slavery, the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, opened in April 2018.
As the capital of Alabama, the city also holds an important place in the history of the Civil Rights Movement. “It was here that Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus and was arrested and here, on the steps of the state capitol, that the third and final voting rights march from Selma ended in 1965.” (1)
In 2015, Montgomery artist Sunny Paulk painted a commemorative mural just a few blocks from the new national memorial that depicts the unforgettable scene of marchers crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
The Newest Mural in L.A. Depicts Local Civil Rights Leaders
A 5,500 square-foot mural depicting local civil rights leaders is in the Westlake neighborhood just outside downtown L.A. It covers the entire front of the American Civil Liberties Union's local headquarters.
“Included in the mural are Black Lives Matter co-founder Melina Abdullah; Hector Barajas, a U.S. Army veteran and activist who was deported to Mexico (and was aided in his return to the U.S. and obtaining citizenship by the ACLU); and Upton Sinclair, the author and activist who founded the ACLU of Southern California in 1923.” (2)
A Mural Project in Flint, MI Honors MLK and the Late Rep. John Lewis
A mural on Flint’s north side depicts Rev. Martin Luther Jr. walking arm-in-arm with civil rights leaders and activists, including the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis, in Selma, Alabama. Artist Kevin “Scraps” Burdick was commissioned to do the work.
“Floyd’s death sparked nationwide protests over police brutality, including several marches in Flint and the surrounding areas including Grand Blanc and Lapeer. The idea of depicting images of King and Lewis spoke volumes for the neighborhood because of the climate of race relations.” (3)
Walls of Justice is an online gallery and community forum inspired by the peaceful demonstrations worldwide following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers in May 2020. We hope our gallery helps spread a message of positive change in the model of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, John Lewis, and Nelson Mandela.
You can learn more about how Walls of Justice began, view the Walls of Justice Gallery, or submit photos of street art and murals in your community focused on racial justice, social justice, positive reform in law enforcement, police accountability, and more!
1. Kroth, M. "6 U.S. Cities With Powerful Murals That Show the Fight for Justice Never Stops". AFAR Media. https://www.afar.com/magazine/6-us-cities-with-powerful-murals-that-show-the-fight-for-justice-never-stops. 2019, 17 Apr.
2. Paskin, J. "New Mural Depicting LA Civil Rights Leaders On 8th Street". LAist. https://laist.com/news/mural-downtown-los-angeles-aclu-civil-rights-leaders. 2021, 10 Jan.
3. Simpson-Mersha, I. "New Flint mural pays homage to civil rights icons Martin Luther King Jr. and John Lewis". MLive. https://www.mlive.com/news/flint/2020/12/new-flint-mural-pays-homage-to-civil-rights-icons-martin-luther-king-jr-and-john-lewis.html. 2020, 7 Dec.