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VOL. 131 | NO. 234 | Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Memphis Upstanders Mural Unveiled In South Main Historic Arts District

By Patrick Lantrip

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Nina Katz, Lucy Tibbs and Rev. Billy Kyles are among the social justice figures in Memphis history honored in a new Downtown mural unveiled on Tuesday, Nov. 22.

Facing History and Ourselves unveiled its new Memphis Upstanders Mural Tuesday morning. Nina Katz, Lucy Tibbs and Rev. Billy Kyles, who all stood up for social justice, are among those featured on the mural. 

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

The mural is located on the south office wall of Facing History and Ourselves, a nonprofit educational and professional development organization, which collaborated with the UrbanArt Commission, National Civil Rights Museum and Downtown Memphis Commission on the artwork.

The “Upstanders” mural faces the Lorraine Motel in the South Main Arts District.

Facing History advisory board member Kerry Hayes said the mural is not a history lesson, but a challenge.

“It is not asking to be emphatic, it is not asking for unity or respect,” Hayes said. “It doesn’t ask you for education even – it asks you for courage, to listen to your conscious and when your conscious speaks, to stand up and do something.”

Upstanders represented on the mural were chosen because they “stood up” for social justice, often in the face of adversity.

For example, Katz was chosen because she was a Holocaust survivor who came to Memphis after World War II and founded the Mid-South Literary Council, and Tibbs was chosen because her testimony at a congressional hearing after the Memphis Massacre helped enact new civil rights legislation.

“Of all of the people on the mural, they probably had the most horrific experiences in terms of the history that they encountered,” Marti Tippens Murphy, executive director of Facing History Memphis, said.

The latest addition to the mural was the late Rev. Kyles, who passed away earlier this year.

Kyles, who was a pastor at the Monumental Baptist Church, was on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.

“To have his image and his story overlooking this quad I think is a powerful reminder of why we are all here and what we can do to protect our hope and continue to carry forward with that dream,” Murphy said.

The mural was created by artists Nelson Gutierrez, a Bogota, Columbia native who now works out of Memphis, and Cedar Nordbye, an associate professor at the University of Memphis and founder of the Memphis Mural Brigade.

“One thing I really love about this location is that when people come to Memphis and walk to this museum, they are thinking about King,” Nordbye said. “The museum does a good job at expanding that, and when you leave the museum this (mural) does a good job of expanding that conversation even further.”

Facing History and Ourselves operates in 10 locations throughout the U.S., Canada and the U.K., and has educational partnerships in China, South Africa, France and northern Ireland.

The organization’s goal is to integrate the study of history, literature and human behavior with ethical decision-making and innovative teaching strategies.

The current political climate was often used as a juxtaposition by speakers at the unveiling to relate the struggles of Upstanders with the struggles of present-day Americans.

“I implore you to think about now,” National Civil Rights Museum president Terri Lee Freeman said. “Let’s make sure that we are on the right side of history when people look back 50 years from now, because it’s not easy when you’re in the middle of the struggle.”

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