City of Birmingham

From Chaos Comes Art: A Walk Through Downtown Birmingham

Local artist Andy Jordan worked Sunday, June 7, 2020, on a painting of Cudjoe Lewis, who was among the last survivors of the slave trade. He was brought to the Alabama coast in 1860 on the slave ship
Clotilda. (Source: Tom Gordon)

Downtown Birmingham, including parts that were hit by an outbreak of violence on the night of May 31, was a lively place Sunday afternoon, with murals touting civic harmony and strength being mounted and painted and a steady stream of visitors from the city and suburbs joining in.

The art included a lengthy plywood mural at the Pizitz building, at 2nd Avenue and 19th Street North, one that bore large hearts that visitors were filling with their handprints coated with different colors of paint furnished at the site. By the time organizers were closing down the site, hundreds of prints were covering the mural. Libby Lassiter, president of Bayer Properties, which owns the Pizitz, said the idea behind the mural was “community coming together, all colors, it represents diversity.”

Visitors get paint for their hands so they can leave prints in a heart mural outside the Pizitz building. The mural was being made Sunday, June 7, 2020, after parts of downtown were damaged during a protest. (Source: Tom Gordon)

“We felt it was important to do a community project,” Lassiter said. “Everybody’s welcome … . You come in, pick your color — we have two color stations — pick whatever color you like and you can put your prints wherever you like … .  And then we have a washing station here where you can wash your hands and if you want to do it again, you can do that too.”

When the mural comes down, Lassiter said, organizers are thinking about selling pieces of it and sending the proceeds to the Equal Justice Initiative. EJI is the Montgomery nonprofit that represents those unjustly imprisoned.

Across 19th Street, on a wall facing a parking lot, artists were doing paintings with a variety of themes and images. Andy Jordan was doing a large portrait of Cudjoe Lewis, one of the last survivors of the African slave trade, who was brought to the Alabama coast on the slave ship Clotilda in 1860.

A short walk away, along 3rd Avenue North, directly under the marquee of the Alabama Theatre, artists responding to a call from the volunteer group B’ham Cleanup were touching up another new mural, one that bore the words, “Bham Strong, Be Safe, Be Well.”

This message was painted near the Lyric Theatre. (Source: Tom Gordon)

“We have been at work since 5 a.m. Monday morning,” said Mary Jean Baker LaMay, who is part of B’ham Cleanup. In a Facebook message, LaMay said the mural at the Alabama Theatre was in solidarity with a similar message on the marquee of the famed Apollo Theatre in Harlem.

On the north side of 3rd Avenue, painters were at work on a mural under the Lyric Theatre marquee, and adjoining their work was a lengthy message on plywood that said in words and symbols, “Birmingham, the world is watching. Keep growing.”

To the east along the avenue, people were photographing and posing for photographs in front of one of the murals put up early last week, one bearing the likeness of George Floyd, the unarmed black man whose death at the hands of Minneapolis police set off nationwide and worldwide protests. Some of the violence happened in Birmingham, touching venues such as the Alabama Theatre, following a May 31 protest around the Confederate Soldiers & Sailors Monument in Linn Park. The park is now fenced off.

People posed in front of the mural of George Floyd in downtown Birmingham. (Source: Tom Gordon)

Meanwhile, north along 19th Street, signs hang from the wrought iron fencing or in the flower beds around Birmingham’s historic First United Methodist Church. “We see you, we hear you, we stand with you — Black lives matter,” was the message of one. “You are perfectly made,” was the message on another.