Birmingham’s Latest Mural Honors Civil Rights Icon, John Lewis

Artist Dewon Moton in front of the unfinished John Lewis Mural in downtown Birmingham on 4th Avenue North. (Pat Byington / Bham now)

By Pat Byington

Four months later, Lee Pantazis’ secret is out.

Last August, Pantazis, Gus’ Hot Dogs owner, Let me share a secret He told me that once his company got the appropriate permits, he would have a mural painted on the empty east wall of his house to honor them Civil rights hero John Lewis, a native of Alabama, who died on July 17th.

For all of the mural seekers out there, the new mural is on 4th Ave. North from 1915. The artist who painted the portrait and words of Lewis is Dewon Moton.

I met with Lee and Dewon to ask them both about the new mural and its message.

“During this difficult year, my crew and I have come together to think about what we can do on a personal level. We took the time to vote. We took the time to get involved with local charities, ”said Pantazis. “I firmly believe in the value of art and the value and power of education. I wanted to celebrate with my boys and a local artist, Dewan Moton, an Alabama hero.

Pantazis added, “John Lewis is someone who has been putting his own health at risk all his life to fight for people who have no voice. This is a man who made the world a better place. We should all strive to have the same positive effects as he does. “

His influence

Artist Dewon Moton and Gus’ Hot Dogs owner Lee Pantazis in front of the unfinished John Lewis Mural in downtown Birmingham on 4th Avenue North. (Pat Byington / Bham now)

Lewis, who is from Troy, Alabama, participated in lunch sit-ins and Freedom Rides as a student. He also helped organize the Selma to Montgomery March for voting rights. Videos and photos of Lewis and his peaceful protesters brutally beaten by Alabama state troops on Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma were broadcast worldwide. The violence that day enraged the nation. As a result, Congress passed the 1965 Suffrage Act.

Years later, Lewis became a Georgia Congressman and campaigned for civil and human rights for three decades.

“I am very proud that John Lewis is an Alabama citizen and very proud to honor him,” said Pantazis. “Hopefully this mural will inspire our community to come together. As Lewis said, with a sense of love and fellowship we can make the impossible possible. “

After my interview with Lee, I was able to briefly interrupt Dewon after he stepped off his ladder and completely revised his portrayal of Lewis.

“Murals have been my job every day for the past four to five years,” said Moton. “Since this whole situation happened with the movement and the pandemic, it became more of a voice for me. I express what I feel through works of art. I feel like with the pandemic, people have had more time to stop and be attentive. I think art was one of those things that brought people back together. For me with this tool in hand. I feel like I have magic.

Along with his Installing downtown you can see Dewon’s magic in Ensley – where he has murals at the entrance to the historic district and along the wall corridor on the parish’s 19th Street.

The new Gus Hot Dogs mural sends a strong message. Next to Lewis’ portrait are his words: “When you come together on a mission that is based on love and community, you make the impossible possible.”

This message welcomes customers at Gus’s Hot Dogs and also the students at new Ed Farm headquarters across the street. It’s less than a block from the Trailways bus depot where Freedom Riders were beaten by the Klan on Mother’s Day, 1961. If you continue one more block on 4th Avenue, you will enter 4th Avenue Historic District, the black business center in Birmingham during segregation.

What a magical gift to all of us.

“We’re proud to honor John Lewis at Gus, to partner with Dewan and we’re excited to have some art on a previously ugly blank wall,” said Lee with a smile.

We are too.

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