Mural project to celebrate Winston-Salem’s African-American history

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a thriving African-American community worked and lived on the east side of Winston-Salem. Today, some say integration and time has erased the area’s history. Artist Owens Daniels is a part of a team that is planning to bring history back to life.

“You have the burden of telling another person’s story and telling that story accurately,” Daniels said. “But you try to be intimate and identify with that story.”

Daniels and others call the history lesson “Present Absence.” The mission is to collect stories about east Winston’s past and paint those stories on the side of the Winston Mutual Life Insurance Building.

“The point is to look into the collage and find themselves,” Daniels said.

There are historical markers scattered across east Winston recognizing the significance of the area. But the markers can’t tell the same story like a vibrant 25 feet by 25 feet mural that will occupy a prominent spot on a well-known building.

“We are tremendously excited and optimistic that we will make public art come to life, but also preserve these stories,” said Betsy Towns, program director at the Center for Design Innovation.

The Center is helping Daniels interview people who were businessmen, doctors, nurses and homeowners that were a part of east Winston’s rich past. The Center for Design Innovation is also working to secure grant funding for the mural from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation. While Daniels and Towns hope to receive funds for the mural, if their request is turned down, they will still find a way to erase the present absence of history.

“We aim to at the very least create an online repository that has video and photography and oral history telling as well as written histories,” Towns said.

If the team gets funding, it will take Daniels about a year to finish the mural.

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