Huge mural in Buckeye celebrates, tells the story of African American history

For more than two years, artist Anna Arnold has been creating perhaps her greatest work—a six-foot-by-44-foot colorful mural that depicts 38 icons who have shaped the history of African Americans around the world. Among those 38 icons,14 Cleveland legends are depicted. The interactive mural comes complete with QR codes so viewers can learn about each event or person depicted.   

“I think it’s my masterpiece,” says Arnold. “It’s beautiful, it’s powerful, it’s traumatic at some points—it’s telling the story of African Americans.”

The mural was dedicated in a presentation by the 128th Street Block Club this past Saturday, Sep. 18 at Amos Norwood Mini-Park on East 128th Street between Buckeye and Drexmore Roads in the Buckeye neighborhood.

Those in attendance included East 128th Street Block Club Association president Robert L. Render; Ali Jamal Boyd, the first vice president of the East 128th Street Block Club; Burten, Bell, Carr Development executive director Joy D. Johnson; and Cleveland Ward 6 City councilperson Blaine Griffin, who presented Arnold with a proclamation from Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson.

Arnold estimates there were about 200 people attending the unveiling ceremony, which brought Arnold to tears. “I was not sad, I was overwhelmed,” she recalls. “I couldn’t get through what I was saying. It’s just so beautiful to be honored.”

Render said in a statement, “It is our responsibility to tell the Black American story truthfully if we ever expect it to be told.”

The mural is made up of 11 panels, measuring 16 inches by 20 inches each, with different themes depicting African American history: It begins with two panels titled “Africa;” the third panel is titled “The Black Madonna and Child of Poland 1340;” panels four through six are titled “Middle Passage;” panels six and seven depict “The Civil Rights Movement;” panel eight is made up of The Literary Giants;” panels nine and 10 are “Cleveland’s Greats;” and the 11th panel is “The Innovators.”

Anna ArnoldThe QR codes, also listed in the souvenir booklet given out at the dedication, provide links to African American history, from Africa to present day. “We wanted it to be a narrative—but we wanted to tell a visual story, so you can get it through standing there and [the codes] tell what’s doing on,” says Arnold. “We want young people to come and say, ‘who are these people?’ and learn more.”

Arnold, who is an accomplished artist and serves as the director of Ursuline College’s Wasmer Gallery, says it was a long two years putting together the mural project—which is sponsored by a long list of community groups. Arnold describes the process as using a collage method with cut pieces of fabric arranged to make the painted mural. She says she had the help of Danny Caver’s Killa Joe, who used a special process to protect the mural form the elements and display the QR codes.

Despite experiencing periods when it became difficult to carry on the project while working a full-time job, Arnold says she could hear the voice of her father, a repair contractor, echoing in her head.

“I could hear my father’s voice telling me, ‘anyone can start a project, but not everyone can finish it,’” she says. The words kept her going and she’s proud of her contribution to the Buckeye neighborhood and to Cleveland as a piece of history. “I can see educators bringing their students there as part of their lesson plans.”

Read more articles by Karin Connelly Rice.

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.
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