Dec 16, 2021 - News

John Lewis mural space in Sweet Auburn could include a park

A person takes a photo of the 65-foot-tall mural of John Lewis in Sweet Auburn
A person snaps a photo of the John Lewis mural in Sweet Auburn in the days following the congressman's death in July 2020. Photo: Mike Stewart/AP

Sweet Auburn leaders want Atlanta’s iconic “HERO” mural of John Lewis to become the backdrop for a small park where people can celebrate the civil rights activist’s rich life.

Why it matters: The 65-foot-tall mural is arguably the coolest addition to Atlanta’s skyline in recent memory, and after Lewis’ death in 2020, the adjacent parking lot became a vigil and tribute.

History lesson: Jerome Edmondson of the Butler Street Community Development Corp. calls the intersection of Jesse Hill Drive and Auburn Avenue where the mural is located the “corner that changed America.”

  • The property is part of the old Butler Street YMCA complex, the first Black YMCA in the United States, and a meeting hub for Black civic leaders during the civil rights movement.
  • “If you were coming to be part of the civil rights movement or to meet with Dr. King, you often stayed at the Butler Street YMCA,” Edmondson tells Axios.

In 1948, Atlanta’s first eight Black police officers slept at the Y because they were not allowed to patrol the streets at night.

State of play: After the memorial service at Ebenezer Baptist Church, Lewis’ funeral procession paused at the mural.

Willie Watkins, the legendary Atlanta undertaker who coordinated the funeral, urged Edmondson to turn the property into a park and finish redeveloping the former YMCA. Others supported the idea..

  • Fundraising continues, Edmondson tells Axios, and community supporters include Sweet Auburn Works, Central Atlanta Progress, and Gene Kansas. He and other organizers would like to open the park in July, around the second anniversary of Lewis’ death.

Don’t forget: Trees Atlanta, the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, and the Freedom Park Conservancy have created a "flowering forest" to celebrate Lewis.

Thomas’ thought bubble: Tear up the concrete, plant flowers and create a beautiful place befitting a remarkable person.

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