Evelyn Lowery to be remembered in 'Hero' mural

The Loss Prevention pays tribute to longtime civil rights pioneer in new public artwork

Last September Atlanta lost of one of its most respected civil rights leaders when Evelyn Lowery passed away from complications related to a severe stroke. The 88-year-old activist championed the rights of women, advocated for marginalized members of society, and fought for those causes in the face of death threats.

In the coming weeks, Lowery will be honored with a new mural painted on the side of a two-story former nightclub at the corner of Auburn Avenue and Bell Street, a few blocks away from where she founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference's sister group, Women's Organizational Movement for Equality Now, Inc. (W.O.M.E.N.), in 1979.

"Evelyn dedicated her life to the causes of the civil rights movement. She never stopped," says Rev. Joseph Lowery, longtime civil rights leader and Evelyn's husband. "It was truly her life's work along with raising our daughters. She tried to have a positive impact on the opportunities and lives of women and children particularly."

The proposed mural, a 10-foot-by-25-foot acrylic painting, features Evelyn Lowery in her earlier years, making a speech outside the headquarters of SCLC/W.O.M.E.N. Her image, accompanied by the word "Hero," in large capital letters, is placed alongside a short description: "Championing the rights of women, children, families, and responding to the problems of the disenfranchised regardless of ethnicity, gender, age, or religion."

The Evelyn Lowery mural marks the second public art installation in the "Hero" series created by local arts and design collective the Loss Prevention. In 2012, the Loss Prevention created a massive work of public art paying tribute to Atlanta Congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis on the eastern face of the Renaissance Walk residential complex at the corner of Auburn Avenue and Jesse Hill Jr. Drive.

Sean Garrett and Maggie White (co-owner of Young Blood Gallery), the husband-and-wife duo behind the Loss Prevention, say the goal of the "Hero" series is to create public art focused on Georgians who have affected the lives of everyday people. For the next mural in the series the group wanted to memorialize a female civil rights activist with roots in Sweet Auburn. They chose Lowery after an informal poll they conducted in the historic district to get feedback on civil rights leaders worthy of the honor.

"Some of our country's most meaningful history took place in the Sweet Auburn district," White says. "But visually, you wouldn't know it. We feel like Sweet Auburn needed more visual landmarks to tell its story. ... Evelyn Lowery always made sure that women's voices were heard, and not just the male activists' point of view. She was very much an equal to her husband as far as the Civil Rights Movement goes."

Founded in 2006, the Loss Prevention creates art for commercial clients such as Adult Swim, the Atlanta Beltline, Binders, Coca-Cola, King of Pops, and other organizations as part of their operation. For public art projects, they sometimes rely on external funding, including a $4,000 grant from the city's Office of Cultural Affairs for the Evelyn Lowery mural. They received approval from the Atlanta City Council and other departments earlier this month. However, the owner sold the building where the mural was supposed to be painted. After weeks of delays, the Loss Prevention expects to begin working on the Lowery mural once the structure gets a fresh coat of paint.

Before moving forward with the mural, White wanted to get Rev. Lowery's blessing on the artwork's design. She headed to the SCLC's headquarters several times in hopes of speaking with him. Eventually she visited Rev. Lowery at his and Evelyn's southwest Atlanta home to discuss the mural.

White says Rev. Lowery liked the portrait and quote the arts collective chose for the mural, saying he was "delighted" for his late wife to simply be honored. His daughter, Cheryl Lowery, wanted use a more powerful photo of her mother in action, however.

"The original picture the artist selected was fine, but it was a posed picture," Cheryl Lowery says. "Mom was an activist, and I love pictures of her serving, marching, sharing. She was a doer, and as this picture shows, she loved her life of service."

Once the Evelyn Lowery mural is complete, White hopes the Loss Prevention will find enough funding to continue its "Hero" series. Atlanta has a shortage of art that pays tribute to its historic past, she says, and the city's rich civil rights history must be preserved and promoted through the arts.

"There's a lot of murals going up in the city, which is wonderful, but it's important that there are awesome murals relevant to the area's history," White says. "It's important that residents identify with murals that empower an area on a more personal level. To overlook the Civil Rights Movement with our visual landmarks would be a shame."

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