News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

February 21, 2014

North unveils heritage mural

High school students, teachers honors ‘Terre Haute Trailblazers’

TERRE HAUTE — The faces of notable black Americans from this area stood out from colorfully painted wood as their eyes seemed to gaze at the viewers of their portraits.

The story of black Americans from Terre Haute was told using paint and plywood on a mural ceremoniously unveiled Friday night in front of about 100 people at Terre Haute North Vigo High School.

The mural, 4 feet high at the school’s northeast corner, joined five other murals around the same area that celebrate culture and history. The idea was conceived and made possible by countless hours of after-school sweat of Terre Haute North Vigo High School students and members of the school’s African-American Club.

The finished mural, “African-American Trailblazers of Terre Haute,” is a tribute to the great people that came before and a constant reminder of local black history.

“The whole importance of the mural is to bring us back to our roots,” said Dario D. Stephens, president of the club.

 The people depicted on the mural “marched,” Stephens said, meaning “they paved the way for us to make a better future.” He said, “It tells me that I can be someone.”

So the challenge to the young people, he said, is to “do what’s right to make a better future,” just like these people did.

More than 40 portraits depicted in the mural are those of black artists, athletes, coaches, politicians, musicians and others who made significant contributions to their society during their time.

On one corner of the mural, which spanned six feet across, were The Original Jingling Jazz Five Piece Orchestra, one of the first black orchestras in Terre Haute. Also featured was Don Turner, art teacher; Willa Brown Chappell, a female aviator; Benjamin “Scatman” Crothers, a renowned entertainer; among others.

In addition to the notable black Americans — both from the 1800’s to present day — the mural also told the story of the first black families of Terre Haute’s Lost Creek Community.

These families, bearing last names such as Anderson, Stewart, Roberts, Chavis, Trevan and Archer, arrived in Vigo County in the early 19th century “on foot, in ox-carts, and by covered wagon” according to files kept at the Vigo County Historical Museum.

Before that, Bowen Roberts, then a resident of North Carolina, was sent “on a scouting expedition to find a place where they might live without being harassed because of their color.” He told other free black Americans about Vigo County.

The Allen Chapel was also given a central role on the mural for its contributions to the faith and education of these early families and for its role as a major stop on the Underground Railroad.

With assistance from their teachers, the students worked on the mural project for about three years. Malcolm Royer, now a junior at North, was just a freshman when the work started.

“I loved it,” he said of working on the mural. “It’s like a puzzle. When you put together the little pieces, it’s about to turn into something beautiful and awesome like what it is right now.” He helped paint the background and some of a building on the mural.

The background work was mostly done by the students, but the elaborate, detailed portraits were handled by teachers, such as T. Edward Holloman and Diane Songer.

Songer is a retired North teacher who planned and sketched the mural.

During Friday’s big reveal of the mural, Erika Cantin, one of the African-American Club sponsors, could not help but get emotional as she addressed the crowd.

“Years ago, the kids came up with the idea ,” Cantin told the Tribune-Star. “And here it is.”

The ceremony included two songs and several speakers including Valerie-Hart Craig, president of the Greater Terre Haute Chapter of the NAACP, and Jeff Lorick, director of Terre Haute’s Human Relations Commission.

It was a celebration of an accomplishment.

“I just get so proud of my students,” Cantin said.

Tribune-Star Reporter Dianne Frances D. Powell can be reached at 812-231-4299 or dianne.powell@tribstar.com.

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