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A mural for the ages

Valley group works with artist to produce civil rights artwork

BOARDMAN — A group of Mahoning Valley Sojourn to the Past members will be in Selma, Ala., this month for a special ceremony at which a mural depicting pivotal aspects of the civil rights movement will be dedicated.

“We came up with the idea,” said Penny Wells, Mahoning Valley Sojuorn to the Past executive director. “We found the artist and people to work with.”

Wells, of Boardman, was referring to a mural that will feature eight aluminum panels of Impressionism art to be unveiled during the dedication ceremony March 14. The $4,000 project in part honors several people who were on the front lines of the movement, as well as key events such as the Aug. 6, 1965, signing of the Voting Rights Act.

Wells collaborated with Sheryl Smedley, director of Selma’s Chamber of Commerce, who commissioned Selma artist Sheila Ferrell to construct the project, Wells noted.

Earlier this month, Joanne Bland, a Civil Rights activist from Selma, spoke at the Tyler Mahoning Valley History Center in downtown Youngstown to raise money for the effort. Her appearance generated about $1,150, more than 25 percent of the cost, altthough about $800 more needs to be raised, Wells said.

The mural will replace one that is peeling and on the side of a building in Selma that’s deteriorating and covered in vines. The original mural captures in part Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. shaking hands with President Lyndon Johnson after the signing of the Voting Rights Act, as well as the chaos of March 7, 1965, a day infamously known as “Bloody Sunday” in which Alabama state troopers attacked about 600 marchers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

The new mural will be in a prominent location in the city’s historic district about a block from the bridge, Wells said, adding that the initial plan was to refurbish the older mural until it was determined that the building was in such poor condition.

In addition, the original mural is near the site where four Klansmen attacked three Unitarian ministers who were leaving a restaurant after dinner and walking back to Brown’s Chapel Church several blocks away. The three ministers, Clark Olsen, Orloff Miller and James Reeb, were among hundreds of ministers and others of goodwill who had come to Selma at King’s behest days after “Bloody Sunday.” The attack resulted in the death of Reeb, of Boston, on March 11, 1965, after he had been struck in the head with a club.

“I am thrilled that after three years, this is coming to fruition. I’m excited about going to this dedication on the 14th,” Wells said.

Also, Mahoning Valley Sojourn to the Past is hosting a spaghetti dinner fundraiser to help students who are going on a one-week Civil Rights bus trip in early April through the Deep South.

The dinner is set for noon to 4 p.m. March 8 at First Presbyterian Church of Youngstown, 201 Wick Ave., downtown. Tickets are $9 for adults and $5 for children under age 12. Meals also can be taken out.

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