REFLECTING LIFE: Mural project would share legacy of Marcus Bottom

Published 11:37 pm Thursday, November 30, 2023

“You can’t be what you don’t see.”

That’s a philosophy held by Karen Frederick and an impetus for the mural project she hopes will be created in Marcus Bottom.

It’s important for her that today’s youth “see that you are validated by having people before you that did historical things that you didn’t dream of,” she said. “It’s something that I think our youth need and the whole community needs. This is a start of a rebuilding and regrowth of our Black communities, because right now they are dying.

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“And so, we want to spur this on through Tony Davenport’s art.”

Frederick, a community leader, has been actively involved in the efforts to restore and renew Marcus Bottom, starting with the creation of a new mural and welcome sign. Davenport, who is a Vicksburg native, was in town recently to meet with city officials and residents of Marcus Bottom, in anticipation of the project.

“Being an artist born and raised from Warren County and Vicksburg, I’ve never done a mural here,” Davenport said. “It’s an opportunity to give back to the community; to come and do a mural in the Bottom, I think it will be a great addition.”

Davenport is a certified K-12 visual arts teacher who has taught in both Mississippi and Tennessee for the past 15 years. As a professional artist, Davenport utilizes the elements and principles of design to illustrate the expression of the human form working in concert with musically themed influences. Davenport has illustrated magazine covers for the Jackson Free Press. In addition, he has designed the official posters for the Mississippi Delta Blues and Heritage Festivals in 2006, 2008, and 2015. In addition to being an accomplished artist, Davenport is also a live performance painter.

The Marcus Bottom mural would be a canvas to tell the history of the community.

“In most every town, every city that you go into the town has an identification and a lot of times, it’s done through art and murals or some type of iconic sculpture,” he said. “But with this, we use the mural as a vehicle to tell the story of the community, tell the history and tell about the people that live here and what they’ve contributed to this part of Vicksburg.

“So, it’s the music, the history, the culture, …all that were being kept capsulated into that mirror.”

The mural would be located on a moveable platform at the historic home is owned by Grover Ainsworth,” Frederick said. “And his mother, Opal, is living there. They have said we could use the wall that wraps around Halls Ferry and Speed Street. They are very willing to have historical Black culture honored there.”

The mural would feature images of people who have been instrumental in the history of Marcus Bottom, including centenarian Gistina Tolliver, who is featured prominently in the design approved by neighborhood residents.

“She’s 102 years I believe she needs to be honored. She’s the oldest resident in Marcus bottom, and she should be honored,” Davenport said.

Residents like Tolliver hold the oral history of the community and help pass that legacy on to younger generations, which is the ultimate goal of the mural project, as explained by Frederick. She estimates the project will cost at least $6,000 and is seeking both city and private funding for the work.

Organizers and the artist have met with Alderman Michael Mayfield and are asking anyone who supports the mural concept to share that support with the mayor and aldermen, as part of efforts to secure approval and funding for the mural.

Frederick believes the project dovetails well will MDOT grants designed to upgrade pedestrian and safety efforts in Marcus Bottom, and she said that getting approval and funding will allow the mural to be designed alongside those improvements.

Neither has a timeline for the installation of the mural, which depends on approval; funding; and weather. “We can’t do anything about the weather; working with the climate and the weather really plays a big role in how fast it gets done,” Davenport said. “It’s a process.”

Editor’s note: Stacy Graning contributed to this report.