By Emma Campbell
For a town that once sold slaves in the center of its main square, Chestertown has come a long way when it comes to racial inclusivity.
In a three-hour-long town council meeting on Aug. 10, Mayor Chris Cerino and all four members of the council ruled in favor of painting two murals on the streets of Chestertown this year to show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. The High Street mural was completed this week.
One mural reads “Black Lives Matter” in large letters on the pavement of High Street, while the other reads “We Can’t Breathe” on the street of a predominantly Black neighborhood.
Those who opposed the murals did so for various reasons. Some claimed the project would show support for a left-leaning group with problematic sentiments, while others expressed fear that the murals would disrupt the quaint aesthetic of a historic town.
It is worth noting that this aesthetic, like that of most other historic American towns, was cultivated around the oppression of Black people. It feels absurd to remind townspeople that inherent historical racism is neither quaint nor an aesthetic. But, here we are.
“This was the most contentious issue I’ve dealt with in my seven years as mayor, by far,” Cerino said of the mural discussion, as reported by The Baltimore Sun.
2020 has seen a plethora of Black Lives Matter street murals appear around the U.S., especially in major municipalities like New York City, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, and Cincinnati.
These artistic displays are more than political statements. They are markers of crucial moments in time.
Justin Garrett Moore, the executive director of New York City’s Public Design Commission, spoke to The New York Times about the community-driven street murals appearing around the city.
“These are Black communities that are really wanting to have an expression for this historic moment that we’re in,” he said.
Street art has evolved into something greater than cheeky graffiti and puffy paint vandalism. There is freedom in an art form not dependent on legitimacy — anyone can put their work in the street. If the work is done in support of a movement built on justice, all the better.
Kent County may be rural and culturally small compared to the likes of Baltimore and Philadelphia, but it has just as great of a responsibility to illustrate equality.
According to the Kent County Historical Society, almost half of the county’s Black population was enslaved by 1860. Several Kent County political leaders were staunchly opposed to the abolition of slavery, such as George Burgin Westcott, James Alfred Pearce, Ezekiel Chambers, and John Leeds.
Chestertown has a record of barbarity. Only by acknowledging this fact, and honoring the late equals we treated as anything but, can we guiltlessly show pride for our home. The street murals are a good starting point.
Wanda Boyer, a Black social services professional, helped write and publicize the proposal for the murals. She was pleasantly surprised when the idea became a reality.
“It tells me that with unity and perseverance, change is possible,” she said.
The people of Chestertown were given the opportunity to join a worthy fight against racial injustice.
Thank goodness we took it.
Featured Photo caption: Town council approved the painting of two Black Lives Matter murals, one of which was just completed on High Street. Photo by Mark Cooley.