Mural, marker celebrate town heritage

Published 6:00 am Friday, February 1, 2008

Part of Hazlehurst’s rich history was celebrated Thursday whentwo physical reminders of the city’s deep arts tradition werededicated.

Legendary blues musician Robert Johnson was honored with aMississippi Blues Trail marker in Hazlehurst, his birthplace, whileat the same time a historic mural on Highway 51 across from thepost office was dedicated in a ceremony held at the Heritage House.The event was planned to be held outside but the weather precludedan outdoor ceremony.

“I’m happy to be here for a lot of reasons,” said MississippiArts Commission Director Malcom White. “I’m proud to be a part ofthis amazing legacy. Robert Johnson created the tradition of bluesas we know it.”

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White went on to describe what made Johnson different as amusician, and worthy of the acclaim he is given in the artscommunity.

“He created a very small body of work, but that body of work isthe encyclopedia of blues in the world today,” White said.”Everyone who ever picked up a guitar has hoped to play like RobertJohnson. Amazing, isn’t it, that he’s from right here?”

Muralist Antoine Lomax, who painted the mural with Indianamuralists Justin Montavon and Mike Doherty, thanked the communityfor its support during the weeks it was being created.

The mural, which was painted in early October, depicts theorigins of Johnson as well as Hazlehurst artists Mary Tillman Smithand Beth Henley, who has extensive family ties to the area and sether Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Crimes of the Heart” in thetown.

“Thanks to everyone who said we were doing a good job, and thatthe murals were beautiful, and even many thanks to everyone whoasked if we could paint their face up there too,” Lomax said,laughing.

The mural symbolizes the message that whatever a person’sorigins, they can achieve their dreams if they apply themselves,Montavon said at the time of the actual creation of the murals.

White said the mural is a blessing not only because of thetalent that produced it or the tradition of the town it’s set in,but also because of its influence on the community.

“Studies show public art lifts public spirits, and this muralshows the pride in this community and reflects who we are and wherewe came from,” said White.

The mural is the brainchild of Copiah County Cultural ArtsDirector Dr. Janet Schriver, who said she felt the community hasshown great pride in the artwork.

“It’s been received really well,” she said. “Actually I’ve beensurprised about the mural, because I was worried it wouldn’t beappreciated. But it seems that people really have embraced it andwhat it stands for. It just means we need some more murals.”

The Blues Trail marker is the second one in the state dedicatedto Johnson, with the first being near Greenwood where he isbelieved to be buried.

“I had someone tell me there was a ticker on CNN about the BluesTrail marker to Robert Johnson in Hazlehurst,” said Heritage TrailsProgram Manager Alex Thomas. “While there are many things that arerumored and disputed about the life of Robert Johnson, there is onething that we can’t deny: He was born in Mississippi and we areproud to celebrate and honor a man who brought so much to ourstate.”

The ceremony was attended by members of the community and localgovernment, family members of those depicted on the murals, as wellas the family of Robert Johnson, who reside in Crystal Springs.