Dates set for Paint the Pavement project, dedication of historical marker for 1906 lynchings

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 29, 2021

By Natalie Anderson
natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Members of the Public Art Committee have set dates for the inaugural Paint the Pavement event and a dedication for the city’s Equal Justice Initiative marker commemorating Jim Crow-era lynchings.

Members of the Public Art Committee discussed details of each project during a virtual meeting held Monday. The historical marker’s dedication is planned for Aug. 6, and the first Paint the Pavement project tentatively is scheduled for July 25. Depending on the supply of pavement paint, the July 25 event could be postponed to a later date, said city urban design planner Alyssa Nelson.

Work for the Paint the Pavement project began in the fall shortly after city council members agreed to move forward with a downtown mural depicting the diversity and vibrancy of Salisbury. Local artist Taylor Ellerbee and attorney Whitney Wallace Williams then launched a grassroots effort for the project, modeled from Charlotte’s project in 2017. A subcommittee of the Public Art Committee in May selected five paintings from 32 submissions to be featured.

The paintings will be on five crosswalks within Salisbury’s Railwalk Arts District — four at the intersection of Kerr and Lee streets and one at the mid-block crossing on East Kerr Street next to Lee Street theatre. The paintings would become city property because they’re located in the public right-of-way.

The historical marker is the product of a partnership among local grassroots organization Actions in Faith and Justice and the Alabama-based Equal Justice Initiative. Efforts to install began in 2017, and the city granted a certificate of appropriateness in March.

The marker will be located between the curb and sidewalk along North Church Street, adjacent to the Oak Grove Freedman’s Cemetery. The Freedman’s Cemetery pays homage to more than 150 mostly unknown Black men, women and children buried there. In the mid-2000s, several stones were removed from the granite wall separating an Old English Cemetery from the Freedman’s Cemetery to symbolize their shared history.

The new historical marker will be in proximity to the Rowan County Courthouse — where in 1906 three Black men named Jack Dillingham, John Gillespie and son Nease Gillespie were abducted from the Rowan County Jail and lynched by a white mob in another location.

Actions in Faith and Justice co-chair Susan Lee said the marker is expected to arrive in Salisbury around the end of July or first week of August. The dedication is planned for the evening of Aug. 6, with events such as panel discussions planned the following day.

The marker will measure 3.5 feet wide and about 3 feet tall, with a supporting post rising 4 feet from the ground. The marker will contain silver lettering on a black background, with one side describing local history about the 1906 lynchings and another telling a broader narrative of modern-day racial injustice.

Lee said organizations across the state, including the North Carolina NAACP and the North Carolina African-American Heritage Commission, plan to promote the historical marker dedication event because Salisbury will be the first North Carolina city to install one. Called the Community Remembrance Project, the Equal Justice Initiative has placed such markers in Alabama, South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, Texas, Missouri, Tennessee, Virginia, Maryland, Ohio, Oklahoma and Minnesota.

Mayor Karen Alexander plans to promote the dedication via the League of Municipalities as well. She currently serves as its president.

Lee said the dedication will be an opportunity to show off Salisbury and encourage other cities to follow in its footsteps. Public Art Committee member Jane Creech said thinking about the community’s grassroots efforts to make the marker happen “gives her chills in a good way.”

“It’s all working together for the common good of all of us and helping to bring about change in a wonderful way,” Creech said.

Also at the Public Art Committee meeting, Nelson said brochures for the 2021 Sculpture Show are now available. To download a copy, visit salisburync.gov/Government/Community-Planning-Services/Urban-Design/Sculpture-Show.

Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.