Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation has awarded an Inclusive Public Art Grant to Eastern Carolina Christian College which will honor Sarah Keys, whose refusal to move to the back of the bus at a station in Roanoke Rapids led to a landmark civil rights ruling in the 1950s.
The foundation also awarded a grant to the Haliwa-Saponi tribe in Hollister for the creation of two murals which will reflect the tribe’s identity and its contributions and achievements.
In all, the foundation’s trustees awarded grants totaling $450,000 to 10 communities across North Carolina.
Reverend Charles McCollum of the college located in Roanoke Rapids said today, “We’re excited about it. Everyone put a lot of hard work into it. It was a very cohesive project. I think all of us are excited and we hope it means a lot to our community and our partners as well as highlighting the contributions Sarah Keys made.”
McCollum said local artist Napoleon Hill is still working on the art for the project which will be located at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park at Virginia Avenue next to Wyche Street. “He’s fine-tuning and has got to complete the work and be very detailed. Z. Smith Reynolds will be collaborating with him and will have a lot of input on how he tells the story. There’s still a lot of work to be done. We don’t know how long it will take.”
From the initial steps taken in planning the Keys site to city council approval of the location in April, McCollum said, “I’ve already seen the community come together even with city of Roanoke Rapids. The mayor has been marvelous. City council (approving the location) that itself was amazing. I hope this might be a way to heal some of the divide Halifax County has experienced over the past decade. Maybe this will be a balm of healing knowing it was part of our history.”
According to a statement from the foundation, the project will tell the story of Keys — now Evans — who was enlisted in the Women’s Army Corps and refused to move to the back of the bus in Roanoke Rapids on August 2, 1952.
She was arrested and her subsequent legal battle was seminal in the fight for equal rights.
The proposed artwork will tell the story through eight mural panels and two bronze plaques mounted on two semi-circular brick walls.
The Haliwa-Saponi project, according to the foundation, will tell the story of the tribe with the goal to facilitate conversations surrounding its identity within the context of colonialism, segregation, and political climates of the past.
Through the process of creating two distinct murals, the project team hopes to continue to engage the community in discussions about identity, while also highlighting the contributions and achievements of native residents despite historical challenges.
“ZSR is looking forward to partnering with communities across the state as they showcase contributions and achievements of North Carolinians, especially women and people of color, whose story in a particular part of the state has not been or is not often told,” said Joy Vermillion Heinsohn, assistant director of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation and lead staff managing the initiative. “We are grateful to these grantees and their communities for bringing these stories to light and providing opportunities for all of us to learn more about our shared history as North Carolinians.”
The foundation also announced a partnership with UNC-TV Public Media North Carolina, which will be working to capture and document the experiences and conversations of all 10 grantee communities as they undergo the process of telling these stories through public art.
The foundation received more than 80 letters of intent from interested applicants last October.
Its Public Art Advisory Committee assisted in narrowing the pool and recommending 20 semi-finalists to the board of trustees last November.
The 20 semi-finalists were awarded $5,000 planning grants to engage their communities in the process of determining what the art installments would be and where they would go.
The 10 sites were then awarded grants in May.