Pilgrim United Church of Christ to present historic mural honoring civil rights leader

NEW BEDFORD — The Pilgrim United Church of Christ will be hosting an installation on August 10, of the newly created mural of Booker T. Washington to honor the city’s play in the reconstruction of slavery.

“It is important to honor the past, but also to talk about the relevance of the conversation that was going on, and that needs to be going on,” said Reverend Donnie Anderson, who spearheaded the installation project.

Washington was an African-American civil rights leader, born into slavery in Virginia, but after the Civil War, his family was able to obtain their freedom and his father started a school for former slaves. He was a founder of the National Negro Business League and was a leader in the African-American civil rights movement.

Washington is best known for his Atlanta Compromise speech, given in 1895, in which he called for African-Americans to make progress through hard work, education and cooperation with whites. His legacy includes the Tuskegee Institute, which he later founded, and his advocacy for African-American civil rights.

Mario Vieira and Cameron Ferreira of Extreme Drywall install the mural featuring Booker T. Washington on the back of the original First Pilgrim United Church on Purchase Street in New Bedford. The mural celebrates Mr. Washington who in 1895 made a speech at this location.

Anderson said it was important for the church to involve the local community in the celebration of an important American figure such as Washington. They achieved this by reaching out to the NAACP and the community for their opinions, hiring local artists and discussing the conflicting perspectives of Booker T. Washington and American sociologist W. E. B. Du Bois.

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Despite having differing perspectives, Du Bois and Washington both worked to secure economic and social advancement for African Americans.

New Bedford played a part in supporting Washington

According to Anderson, while Washington advocated for economic and educational advancement among African Americans as a means of eventual acceptance into mainstream white American society, Du Bois sought civil rights and political power to effect immediate change.

“I hope that people understand that this community values the importance that New Bedford played in issues related to slavery and its reconstruction and that New Bedford was a player and a very significant part of that,” Anderson added.

A man walks past the Pilgrim United Church of Christ on Purchase Street in New Bedford.

This artwork is the work of local artist, Eden Soares, and is meant to remember Washington’s 1895 visit to New Bedford, to raise funds for the Tuskegee Institute, a historically black college in Tuskegee, Alabama.

The event, August 10 at 5 p.m., is part of the August’s AHA! set events. The program will include an introduction to the artist, readings from Booker T’s autobiography, “Up from Slavery” and musical performances by local City Councilor Shane Burgo.

Refreshments will be provided afterwards in the Church Home.

Becoming a permanent part of New Bedford

Anderson, who recently went from interim to permanent pastor at Pilgrim United Church of Christ, said that it has made it easier for her to feel a more permanent part of the city and become engaged in the city knowing she can follow through on things.

“Now I can be engaged in conversations that involve longer term projects, and longer term issues. And I’m really enjoying that,” she said.

Questions about this event can be emailed to puccnbcouncil@gmail.com. It is supported in part by the New Bedford Cultural Council, which is funded by Massachusetts Cultural Council.

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It also received a Wicked Cool Places grant, organized through the New Bedford Creative at the NBEDC and made possible with support from the City of New Bedford’s Arts, Culture and Tourism Fund, as well as additional funding from Bristol County Savings Bank.

Standard-Times staff writer Seth Chitwood can be reached at schitwood@s-t.com. Follow him on twitter: @ChitwoodReports.Support local journalism by purchasing a digital or print subscription to The Standard-Times today.

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