It was while visiting the Central Terminal a couple of days ago that I finally got a chance to check out artist Edreys Wajed’s mural of late congressman John Lewis, who is considered a civil rights icon. Viewing the mural, at a time when there is so much excitement surrounded the East Side (with the announcement of the unveiling of the CT’s master plan), I couldn’t help but feel hope for a more unified city.
For so long we have been a city divided between East and West. John Lewis’s dreams were to unite a nation that has also been divided. In his memoir, “Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement,” published in 1998, Lewis cited Buffalo as a city of early inspiration that led him believe that there was hope for other cities to conquer systemic racist practices and attitudes. During his visit to Buffalo in 1951, the impressionable Lewis – age 11 – saw black men working and playing alongside white men. The images of these encounters would remain with him throughout his life – the images would help to forge his ideologies pertaining to the Civil Rights Movement.
The mural is fittingly located on a wall of the Matt Urban Hope Center – 385 Paderewski Drive (the facility is owned by the City of Buffalo) – the gateway to The Central Terminal.
“My friend, Congressman John Lewis, shared with me the special place Buffalo held in his heart and it is fitting that his likeness is featured in the heart of Buffalo at the Hope Center,” said US Congressman Brian Higgins, at the unveiling in July. “In his visit to Buffalo as a child, John Lewis saw signs of hope for a more just and equal society. This mural stand as a reminder that Buffalo can lead by example and make good trouble in the fight for civil rights, voting rights and opportunity for all.”
Lewis preached the importance of peaceful protests. His actions – including mass mobilizations – gave people a chance to speak out in ways that were groundbreaking for the times. Lewis is widely known for leading what would become known as the “Bloody Sunday” march in 1965, from Selma to Montgomery across the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
“In hindsight, it’s perplexing as to why John Lewis isn’t present on the Freedom Wall considering his life’s work,” noted Wajed of Eat off Art. “I do believe however that things happen in a divine order, making it more fitting and appropriate that he prominently stands watchfully over such an iconic, yet forgotten and neglected part of the City as a symbol of hope, resiliency and as a vision for restoration and healing.”
The mural was made possible thanks to Council Member Mitch Nowakowski and County Legislator Howard Johnson.
“The completion of this project will add great value to the cultural, aesthetic and economic vitality of the Broadway-Fillmore community,” said Johnson. “This mural will contribute to the community’s identity, it will foster community pride and enhance the quality of life for the surrounding residents and the visitors to the area and begins the next phase of development for this area.”
Johnson is right. The mural makes for a contemplative entranceway, leading to “The People’s Palace,” where a grand staircase will (hopefully) become a focal point of the massive development project. This mural, and that staircase, will help to change the way that we view ourselves – as a city (and a people) that has overcome so much adversity, and which is now focusing on instilling diversity.