Chattanooga activist seeks 100 volunteers to paint the words ‘Black Lives Matter’ on MLK Boulevard

“You know, everything I do is for the people,” says Chattanooga activist and protest organizer Cameron (C-Grimey) Williams.

Chattanooga activist and protest organizer Cameron (C-Grimey) Williams has issued a “call to action” for volunteers to join him in sending a message that Black Lives Matter.

“I want to paint ‘Black Lives Matter’ on MLK Boulevard, starting at the intersection of Lindsey and MLK and going down as far as the phrase needs to go down,” Williams explained. “Black Lives Matter, I envision that phrase on MLK. We gonna make it happen.”

Williams is seeking at least 100 volunteers to join him at 9:30 a.m. on June 26 and 27, to help paint a colorful mural of the phrase “Black Lives Matter” on the pavement near the 200 block of East Martin Luther King Boulevard.

Volunteers are asked to bring their own masks, hand sanitizer and water; and for tapers, knee pads or a cushion.

“We want to add some history to the already iconic MLK Boulevard,” Williams said. “We’re gonna do it, but it’s on us to make it happen. We need your help as a community.”

When asked if he sought any type of official permit to block off MLK Boulevard during the nearly 16 planned hours of painting, spanning two days, Williams confessed to going rogue.

“We gone buck,” he said, pausing. “We gone buck! We’re just gonna have to move forward and be resilient like black people have always been.”

Chattanooga isn’t the only city painting the streets. The trend began in Washington, D.C., where the words “Black Lives Matter” appear in massive yellow lettering near Capitol Hill. A similar mural also covers  streets in Seattle and Charlotte, among others.

The street art comes amid ongoing civil unrest in Chattanooga and across the country in response to the Memorial Day death of 46-year-old George Floyd in Minneapolis.

The death of Floyd, a black man whose neck was pinned to the ground under the knee of white police officer Derek Chauvin for nearly nine minutes, sparked massive protests and has forced a reexamination of racism and police conduct.

Once known as the “Big 9,” MLK Boulevard (formerly East Ninth Street) has a storied history as the home of much of Chattanooga’s African-American culture. When separate but equal was the prevailing law of the South, black-owned retail shops, movie theaters, offices and nightclubs lined the bustling “Big 9.” 

But starting in the 1950s and continuing for the next two decades, the Westside Renewal Project (or as it was later known, the Golden Gateway Project) dismantled the neighborhood. A product of the Housing Act of 1949, which provided federal funds for cities to buy distressed properties and spawn massive urban renewal projects, it rerouted the new interstate highway routes through Chattanooga.

The project forced many of the black-owned businesses of Ninth Street to relocate, and destroyed more than 1,000 buildings. More than 1,600 families had to move, forcing the local housing authority to create public housing in other parts of the city.

In 1981, East Ninth Street was renamed Martin Luther King Boulevard to honor the slain civil rights leader.

The National Register listing states that the MLK historic district, just a few blocks from The Tennessee River, is important “for the social role the community played in developing and supporting a black culture and society in southeast Tennessee.”

The Chattanooga Black Lives Matter mural is being designed by renowned artist SEVEN, and supported by the grassroots organizations I Can’t Breathe CHA and Rise Chattanooga.

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