If you’ve passed Spartanburg City Hall on West Main Street over the past couple of years, you’ve seen a statement made in large, colorfully-designed letters on the street – Black Lives Matter in Spartanburg.
After the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Mn. and the nationwide calls for racial justice and equity that followed, a group of 16 incredibly talented artists came together with the support of the City of Spartanburg and several key community organizations to paint a street-level mural reading Black Lives Matter.
Each letter features a distinct, eye-catching design that reflects something about the artist who created it. Below, each artist shined some light on the inspiration behind their letter, and why being able to say Black Lives Matter is important for them, and for Spartanburg.
(Note: some responses have been edited for length, but were kept as close to the artists’ original response, collected after the mural’s completion in 2020, as possible.)
“My letter is the letter B. It represents the idea that we must lift each other up as we climb. We must persevere over many obstacles in our lives and part of the process requires that we work together. The people in the design are rising up from the land into space. At the top is a representation of an angel in a hoodie. He represents Trayvon Martin as well as many others who were unjustly murdered which is the reason for the Black Lives Matter movement.”
“I’m not sure I can wrap words around this experience. The love was thick, our community showed up and that beautiful feeling of hope rang loud. This is the Spartanburg I choose to raise my children in. Loving, supportive, hopeful and progressive. I’m so proud. My design came from a prayer. A Mother’s Prayer. I was deeply affected when George Floyd cried out for his mama… It pierced my soul. I felt him crying out to me, to every mother in the world. Our children deserve better. I wanted my design to reflect that feeling. I wanted it to be a tribute to Black mothers. I layered profiles of women, the givers of life, in colors I felt are symbolic of strength, sacrifice, and passion. At the last minute, I replaced the praying hands with 3 birds that represent love, peace and hope. The praying hands felt too literal and internal. I wanted to represent action and change. I wanted that action to break through the confines of the letter, breakthrough the boundaries. That’s the wings at the top. That’s the hope in tomorrow.
“The color inspiration for my letter came from African Kente cloth and 90s hip-hop fashion. These colors are really bold, vibrant and encompass Black culture to me. Being a part of such a strong and uplifting movement, it only made sense to be unapologetic in my contribution.”
“I chose to use figures and vivid color, to evoke the unity, energy, resilience and collaboration needed at his pivotal time in racial justice to build a better future. The arcs in the sky remind viewers of the quote often attributed to Martin Luther King Jr.: ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.’”
“Most of my art uses really bright colors in the background with a black and white image as the focus so this letter couldn’t be any different. The inspiration behind the design of my letter was the lives of my 3 favorite little guys; my 2 nephews and my godson. They are 6,7, and 12 right now so they are being impacted by what they see. The oldest has been asking a lot of questions and feeling really hurt by all of the videos that have been going around and it’s been hard teaching him about the BLM struggle. I wanted to use my letter as a way to let them know that they matter, and they will always matter.”
“My design consists of purple Jimi Hendrix inside the letter L in the word Lives. ‘When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know peace.’ – Jimi Hendrix
I chose the letter L because of the song “Little Wing.” I knew going into the project the simple statement (Black Lives Matter) also carried a political agenda. I choose the color purple because it is a mixture of blue (Democratic) and red (Republican). The project was carried out by a diverse group of artists promoting unity within the community through art.”
“The meaning behind my piece starts with the fist being colorful representing unity as a human race, the heart is us as a human race loving one another. BLM is painted in different shades of brown to represent no matter what shade of brown your skin is, Black lives mattered then, Black lives matter now. ‘Equality,’ the bright colors in the piece represent love, peace on Earth, and ‘we matter.’”
“I originally came up with the idea when I was drawing! I love to draw Black women and put them in my art as much as possible, not only because I am also a Black woman, but for representation purposes in giving visuals to little Black girls of themselves in their own cities and on their own sidewalks.
I also wanted to emphasize that Black Girls and Women Matter during this transformational period when Black women, trans women, and children are constantly at risk and killed, and often swept under the rug. The murder of Breonna Taylor has really impacted my perspective in the progression of the BLM movement so whenever I can add a woman’s face, especially a Black Woman’s face, I do.”
“My inspiration derived from topics that some of the most intellectual, intelligent, and impactful Black leaders of history touched on day in and day out as they gave their entire life acting in selfless states of being, for the awareness of inequalities in our country. Systemic racism, violence, bloodshed, etc. have all played a role in the injustices of Black people dating back to the 400 years of slavery on to today. My mission was and is to start the conversation of these topics so that understanding of true history can be brought to the forefront and dismantled so that we all can rewrite the new books of our country lead by real love, respect, equality, and equal justice.“
“I was assigned the letter “s”. The letter meant so much to me because its what makes the word ‘lives’ plural. A reminder that multiple lives have been cut short, yet the fact remains that Black Lives Matter. I depicted “Trayvon Martin” in my design because he has been a face for the innocent lives ended due to hate. I added a rose which for me stands for shared love. We as people must all love each other to move forward. Finally I added the word “Justice”. Justice insights fair and equal treatment for everyone. We are fighting for equality. This mural was a huge step in the right direction for a lot of people. BLM.”
“For my portion of the street mural I wanted to create a piece that embodied the spirit of feminine Black power. The woman in my mural was painted after one of my dear friends. The intent was to capture a bit of a power pose – and the color scheme was to keep it playful and attractive. For my particular friend who this is [modeled] after, plants are a big source of joy, so I wanted to include them as a facet of the piece.”
“The youth… the children, they see everything. They watch and I hope that they’re learning. I thought that by the time I got to adulthood that the issues of my father and my father before me would be a distant memory. They aren’t. I thought that we’d be farther along than we are. Hopefully, they’ll learn from what they’re seeing as far as how we are protesting, and what we’re standing for and make improvements accordingly. We’ll see.”
“It’s basically – red equals blood, Black equals people, and green equals Earth.
The more complicated version goes, the blood is dripping, meaning our blood is being seen. Every person in the human race has the same color blood; realize it. The man and woman have each other’s back. Running for freedom to equality since the slave ships pulled up. The yellow behind them can be seen as the sun, or a flashlight looking for the brave runaways making their way through the tall green grass.”
“With my letter I wanted to specifically bring light to the many innocent and helpless Black children who have lost their freedom, and many times their lives, to law enforcement and an entirely unfair judicial system. One of the first and most widely known cases of this is 14-year-old George Stinney Jr. who was wrongfully convicted of the murder of two white girls and was executed by electric chair in 1944. The youngest American in history to be sentenced to death and executed by electric chair. In 2014 George’s name was finally cleared of any wrongdoing. I chose George as the subject of this work for a couple different reasons. Having happened in South Carolina I think it’s more powerful to tell his story again on the same ground. Additionally, his siblings say he had a talent for drawing, what better way to memorialize him than through art, the best way I know how.”
“I was assigned the letter E and immediately grew ecstatic because my easily recognizable “HERE IS AN IMAG E.” decal places emphasis on the letter E. I’m primarily a graphic designer so I tend to approach things with a design frame of mind, that often times translates to simplistic/minimalistic designs with clean geometric shapes, sharp edges, bright colors and somewhat standard fonts. I chose to remix my decal by using an excerpt from an Erykah Badu song I strongly admire. The song is titled ‘On & On,’ and lyrics go, ‘If we were made in His image then call us by our names.’ MADE IN HIS IMAG E. felt like the perfect space filler. Black people are magic beings by nature. We breed creativity and are constantly reappraising the value and quality of life. Our contributions are finally being highlighted and celebrated. Contrary to the song lyrics, I truly believe if God were to have a gender, it would be that of a woman more than a man. Women are so much more sacred and spiritually connected than men. His fit better with the design but my intention was always to cross it out and replace it with Her in a way that appeared vandalized and overemphasized.”
“R. No Puedes silenciar a la gente. You can’t silence the people
Black Lives Matter has been an ongoing movement to shed light on police brutality against an unjust system…. So many Black Americans, along with other minority groups, have been ostracized from the so-called American dream. So many people think activists within these movements are gang members or misfits, but these are people that have had enough, and they want to take a stand. A quote by James Baldwin: ‘If any white man in the world says give me liberty or give me death, the entire white world applauds. When a Black man says exactly the same thing word for word, he is judged a criminal and treated like one.
Leaders throughout history have been fighting the same fight over and over and they are tired. They are running out of resources and options to lead the people. There are a lot of oppressed communities that are deprived of proper funding, education, and resources. Breaking systematic racism in these communities is a must or it will continue to get worse. Our communities are being taken over by gentrification and we have food deserts throughout our neighborhoods, no jobs where we can actually create generational wealth. We have police profiling and patrolling communities they would never live in. This is a problem because you fear what you don’t understand. The people have spoken, and they want change. You can’t and will not silence them. There are people within our generations along with our ancestors who have lost their lives and we want justice for them and to have a fair chance to live the American Dream.