Chattanooga mural to cover Bessie Smith painting

Chattanooga mural to cover Bessie Smith painting

June 6th, 2013 by Yolanda Putman in Local Regional News

While her face remains on two other murals along M.L. King Boulevard, a mural featuring legendary music figure and Chattanooga native Bessie Smith has been partially painted over on the east wall of Champy's.

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.

Mia Hansford, left, and Thomas Perry work on the mural called "We Shall Not Be Moved" at the Mark Making Studio in North Chattanooga on Friday. The mural, which depicts the Chattanooga sit-in demonstrations of 1960, will be placed on the side of Champy's Chicken this summer. But some UTC students are upset that it will cover their mural of Chattanooga-born blues legend Bessie Smith.

Mia Hansford, left, and Thomas Perry work on...

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.

Illustration by Laura McNutt /Times Free Press.

The good news is that a 17-foot-tall mural capturing the resilient spirit of Howard High School students who led the 1960 sit-ins will be on the wall at Champy's Chicken on M.L. King Boulevard next week.

The bad news is that it will replace a student-designed mural of blues legend Bessie Smith.

"It was a huge disappointment that we spent so much time and energy on it," said Caety Carter, one of more than a dozen former University of Tennessee at Chattanooga honors students who painted the Bessie Smith mural in 2010.

By Friday, the Bessie Smith mural is expected to be completely removed. Mark Making will install the new mural, called "We Shall Not Be Moved," on Monday.

"We have everyone's permission, the property owner's, the neighborhood association," said Frances McDonald, who founded Mark Making, a nonprofit organization that creates public art.

McDonald said she meant no ill feelings toward the students who are upset.

She had been looking for a building on which to put the mural for six months.

She approached three building owners before talking with the owners of Champy's, who welcomed her idea.

Champy's manager Eve Burd said, "It's going to be a super-awesome mural."

Getting permission to install a mural is "very difficult," said McDonald, even when it's being done for free.

The nonprofit organization has installed 32 murals since its inception in 2009, including "I Have a Dream" at J.J.'s Bohemia and "We Inspire" on the railroad overpass on M.L. King Boulevard.

"We Shall Not Be Moved" is funded by the Tennessee Arts Commission and done with the assistance of about 100 people, including 60 students from the Howard School. They helped design the mural after studying the sit-ins and hearing Booker T. Scruggs give a first-person account of the historic event. The sit-ins led to blacks being served in public places.

McDonald said she talked to the former UTC students who painted the Bessie Smith mural and invited them to participate in creating the new one. She said she thought the matter was resolved.

"I'm surprised," she said when asked if she was aware of their feelings.

But Carter said she felt hurt and disappointed, and some students said they wished McDonald had painted over one of Mark Making's murals instead of destroying theirs.

Carter said the Bessie Smith mural was a big deal to the students because it was a student-led project, done with no major financial backing.

Monika Groppe, former executive assistant for Mark Making, designed the Bessie Smith mural and got the paint for the it donated.

She talked to M.L. King Boulevard area residents about neighborhood's history and their hopes about the community's revitalization. She researched the project for at least a year before getting help from students to outline and paint it on Champy's wall in fall 2010.

Groppe declined comment for this story.

"Every time you drive by Champy's it was a piece of pride for us," Carter said. "And then to drive by one day and see it being stripped down is like, whoa ... a big disappointment."

Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at or 423-757-6431.