Thursday, August 24, 2023

Quilts for John Lewis, with joy and gratitude - Atlanta Quilt Festival, part 1

Last week I was in my house in Georgia, again. For those who have not read my prior posts - my house has an address in Marietta, however it is located about 10 miles outside the center of town and city limits. It is nearer two other towns, 6 miles each from Kennesaw and Acworth and 6 miles even from Dallas in the next rural county, Paulding. There is an article in The Discoverer blog mentioning Marietta - read it here "8 of the Most Underrated Cities in the South." I have visited five of these eight - including Ellijay, Georgia; I wrote several posts including Ellijay, look here and here. Below is an overview of Marietta center. My house is west of it, at the base of Kennesaw Mountain, in West Cobb County (where I placed a red mark.) (photo coursesy The Discoverer.) The bottom photos are about a couple of miles from my house.
While there I wanted to go on a small outing, not far. When checking, I found several exhibits in greater Atlanta including a quilt show. I enjoy visiting quilt shows and have posted several from Bulloch Hall, in Roswell, GA - you can find them by clicking on the side of my post. When I saw that this was a special exhibit in honor of our late Georgia Congressman, John Lewis, of course I had to go. It was in Southwest Atlanta, off Cascade Road, at the Southwest Arts Center. Arriving there in mid-morning, two visitors were leaving, and then I was the only one, having the show all to myself. The center is immaculate and well landscaped.
The Atlanta Quilt Festival honoring John Lewis is a trilogy started in 2022 with "Good Trouble Quilts - Celebrating the Life and Legacy of Congressman John Lewis" followed in 2023 and 2024 by quilts focusing on the accomplishments and the life of John, and the power of joy and gratitude expressed by quilters who benefited from his work and sacrifices.
The side building had two large and sunny rooms with the John Lewis quilts.
Most of the quilts in these rooms had small labels next to each quilt with the quilter's name and the meaning of the work. (Please click on collage once or twice to enlarge and be able to read.)
John Lewis was a magnificent man, a good man, an inspiration, a Civil Rights giant. I believe he is one of the most admired and respected Americans in the nation, and frankly, he is a hero of mine. John Lewis (1940-2020) was among the original Freedom Riders (the Black and white activists who challenged segregation in the South in 1961.) He helped organize the March on Washington, where Dr. King was the main speaker. On March 7, 1965, John lead a group of 600 who were marching to demand the right to vote in Selma, Alabama. As they were crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge they were met by state troopers in riot gear. As they would not disperse the troopers threw tear gas and attacked the marchers with bullwhips and rubber tubing wrapped with barbed wire. There, a trooper cracked John's skull with a club and beat him again while he was on the ground. Some of the quilts below depicts this.
Between 1960 and 1966 John Lewis was arrested 40+times, and beaten repeatedly by Southern policemen. He was left in a pool of blood in Montgomery, Alabama, in a bus terminal where white people had beaten him. He spent many nights in county jails including 31 days in Mississippi's brutal Parchman Penitentiary.
Here in Nashville, John Lewis in February 1960 led a group of students to sit-down at the Woolworth's lunch counter, where only whites could be served. The counter was closed one hour later and the students arrested. John Lewis kept pursuing civil rights equity for the rest of his life. The early movement in Nashville was the start of desegregation of lunch counters and restaurants across the US. (Below vintage photo courtesy The Nashville Tennessean.)
A couple of years ago I had heard that this Woolworth building downtown Nashville had re-opened as a lunch and dinner restaurant after a $6 million renovation. The owner, a Nashville native, had found and assembled many vintage historical artifacts to place in this building, such as the "Black only" sign near a water fountain. The original mezzanine with terrazzo floors and metal railings had also be uncovered. Archival photos were hanged on the wall. I was going to drive there for lunch but then Covid happened. Just now, trying to see if it was still open for business I found out that it closed after the pendemic and was sold. It was re-opened by entrepeneurs after being remodeled into a theatre, Las Vegas style, with a "for adults only" show called "shiners," with some X-rated scenes, and all of it very much insensitive to minorities. Historic Nashville had recommended that a Civil Rights Movement trained preservationist be included in the remodeling to ensure that items of historical value be preserved. This was not done and most were tossed away in a dumpster. Last fall the building was even rented for the premiere of the controversial right-wing film "The Greatest Lie ever Sold: George Floyd and the Rise of the Black Lives Matter." Well, I have no words... Below top photo the building after renovation in 2018 then after remodeling as a theatre in 2020, courtesy Nashville Scene.
It is quite painful for me to see this happening to such an historical building, but then again I am not surprised. In Atlanta there are few historical Civil Rights buildings left, and those that are still standing have received little recognition and are in disrepair; not much for future generations to visit. After having lived in the US many years I realized that this country is not interested in preserving its historical buildings if they have to spend their money, and certainly not for Black History... I wish US tourists would stay here and spend some of their money preserving their own old buildings than crowd European cities like my home town, Paris, France. I checked and in 2022 the US Government funding for the arts (and that includes historic preservation, museums, theatres, etc.) was about $4.40 per habitat. Per comparison France in 2023 is funding the arts in greater Paris 139 Euros per habitat, or $150.21, and 15 Euros, or $16.21 for the rest of the country. If French tax payers did not pay for the arts, by now all the old castles, churches and all the museums would not be worth visiting, as entry fares alone are not enough to maintain them, and churches don't even charge. I have been a member of the American Historic Preservation for many years. Yearly membership is less than a fancy meal at a restaurant. I don't know anyone else who belongs. Here is the latest issue I received.
There were a large amount of quilts in the main building, and I'll show them in part two of this post. More to come ...
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