Another Civil Rights history mural has joined the growing collection on Auburn Avenue, adding to renewed preservation momentum.
The mural on the former Atlanta Daily World building at 145 Auburn celebrates District V, Atlanta’s first Black Girl Scouts troop, by highlighting Roslyn Pope, the long-unsung Civil Rights activist who grew up in it.
Sweet Auburn’s vital present is rooted in a storied past as a bastion of Black community wealth and independence under the Jim Crow racist system. Despite national and City landmark protections, the area has faced extensive loss of historic structures. Only recently has momentum shifted with such efforts as the rescue of Georgia’s first state-chartered Black-owned bank and renovations of the Prince Hall Masonic Building and the Odd Fellows building.
Institutional history is well-anchored there by Fulton County’s Auburn Avenue Research Library and the APEX Museum. But in terms of real estate and advertising, a literally large influence for the past decade has been 219 Auburn’s towering mural of John Lewis, the late Civil Rights icon and congressman. Blazoned with the word “hero,” it is clearly visible from the Downtown Connector that so deliberately and callously bulldozed through the neighborhood.
In 2019, just down the street at 196 Auburn, artist/activist Charmaine Minniefield painted a mural of Ella Baker, a radical grassroots organizer with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and other key Civil Rights efforts.
The idea of the Lewis mural came from mural-painting firm The Loss Prevention Arts, whose dream was passed on to, and approved by, Lewis’s campaign. A key figure in its location and creation was history-minded developer and real estate marketer Gene Kansas. He and The Loss Prevention played a similar role in the new Pope mural, which was the brainchild of the Girl Scouts of Greater Atlanta (GSGATL).
GSGATL is in a historic frame of mind. Last month, the Atlanta History Center in Buckhead launched “100 Years of Girl Scout History,” an exhibit created in conjunction with the group that runs into next spring. The Girl Scouts were created in Savannah in 1912 by Juliette Gordon Low. Another key piece of history featured in the exhibit is the 1943 establishment of Atlanta’s first Black Girl Scouts troop, formed by Bazoline Usher and other leaders in Sweet Auburn.
Kat Marran, interim CEO of the Mableton-based GSGATL, said the organization has long considered how to do more for “those troops who broke down those barriers, [a history] that was not unknown but not recognized the way it should be.”
Leslie Gilliam, GSGATL’s communications advisor, said the specific idea of a mural is “a dream of mine for a while” that she “discussed fleetingly” several years with Pope herself – who died earlier this year – and the late Celestine Bray Bottoms, a well-known campaign adviser and mother-in-law of former Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.
The dream started to become reality last year when the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs connected GSGATL with Kansas, knowing they were looking for a mural spot in Sweet Auburn. Kansas calls it “one of those cosmic connections.” Not only is he working on a book about the underrepresentation of women in Civil Rights history, but in a pleasant surprise to GSGATL, he also owns the Daily World building – which is where District V originally met.
Kansas recalls that Gilliam said, “they wanted to find a wall to honor District V Atlanta’s first Girl Scouts. I was like, yes. How about the wall of the building where the troop was [based]?”
Earlier this year, an online fundraiser contributed nearly $12,000 for the mural. The Loss Prevention designed it, with the actual work done by Emily Cardena, a New York artist who is from Atlanta and grew up a Girl Scout herself.
“My hope is that people feel empowered to make change the same way Roslyn did,” said Brian Simons, the mural’s graphic designer.
Maggie Smith, project manager at The Loss Prevention, said that Pope and other activists at the time spoke of “standing on the shoulders of giants” of the Civil Rights movement and suggested that murals can represent that sense of history today. “And I love the idea that ordinary people walking by the mural — especially the children — might see a piece of themselves in the image of Roslyn Pope as a young Scout and feel inspired and represented,” she said.
The mural features a realistic, black-and-white image of Pope in her Girl Scout uniform, based on a historic photo. She is surrounded by rays of gold, orange, and salmon and the phrase, “The Future Is Bright.” The mural includes a line about the significance of the first Black troop and its year of establishment.
Pope is featured because she was not only one of the first members of the troop but also became an important Civil Rights figure, though her contribution received little individual publicity until recent years. As a Spelman College student in 1960, she was the primary author of “An Appeal for Human Rights,” a manifesto that kicked off the Atlanta Student Movement, where college students directly challenged Jim Crow racism with sit-ins, boycotts and other actions.
Similar to some of the civil rights and liberties controversies in Atlanta today, the “Appeal” and its movement were decried by Georgia’s governor as “anti-American” and “evil” works controlled by “outside agitators.” As Atlanta History Center publicity about the new exhibit notes, the existence of the Girl Scouts itself was “once considered radical by some.”
For GSGATL, “This is not just an end-all, be-all, one mural and done,” said Marran. Indeed, the new mural will be a new stop on “Journey to Justice,” an annual camp on the history and meaning of civil rights that it stages for Girl Scouts from across the country. “And all of that journey that they’re going through culminates in their own decisions, not ours, [about] what justice means to them” and what actions they might take to uphold it, Marran said. “And this mural will be part of that.”
As a property owner, Kansas said he’s mindful of what goes inside the building as well. Refuge Coffee, a Clarkston-based nonprofit that provides training and jobs for refugees from around the world, left the Daily World building a year ago after a brief operation weighed down by the pandemic. Kansas has been holding the spot for now with Satellite, a spin-off of his shared work and event space Constellations, which operates in another historic structure, the Southern School Book Building. “We want to find someone long-term that’s going to be additive to Sweet Auburn…,” he said. “And we’re just gonna wait ’til it’s a business or program that helps that broader vision. Because it’s just got to be done right, meaning it needs to be beyond filling a box.”
Kansas said efforts like murals are important as a “conversation-starter” about the significance of neighborhood history — and far easier than, say, rehabilitating a historic building. “I’m not saying it should be mural alley or something, but why not have more murals that share Atlanta’s history and civil rights story?” he said.
The Lewis mural is a prime example of how that can work. The site is now poised to become a park via the local Butler Street Community Development Corporation, and The Loss Prevention said it is in discussions about touching up the artwork.
GSGATL is hoping to gather Pope’s family members and others for a formal mural unveiling during Black History Month. Marran said that GSGATL is happy to play a role in the historic conversation beyond the Girl Scouts world. “People from around the world come to Atlanta for this [Civil Rights history], and we hope this can be a piece of that,” she said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect account of the origin of the John Lewis mural concept.