Why the Congress Ave. Black Austin Matters street mural put a local twist on the Black Lives Matter slogan

The Black Austin Matters street mural stretches along three blocks on Congress Avenue. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)
The Black Austin Matters street mural stretches along three blocks on Congress Avenue. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)

The Black Austin Matters street mural stretches along three blocks on Congress Avenue. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)

In Washington, D.C.; New York City; San Francisco; Oakland; and several other major cities throughout the country, local artists have painted massive murals that read “Black Lives Matter” in bold, yellow text, stretching across main city blocks.

The Austin Justice Coalition and Capitol View Arts unveiled Austin’s version June 16, spanning three blocks along Congress Avenue, the main artery leading up to the Texas Capitol. However, instead of “Black Lives Matter” the mural reads “Black Austin Matters.”

The word choice was not made lightly, according to those involved. Chas Moore, executive director of the Austin Justice Coalition, said there was some initial debate over whether to replicate the Black Lives Matter mural seen in other cities or add a local twist. In the end, Moore said, the choice was to highlight the black community in Austin specifically.

“Every community has different context and different struggles around what can best benefit the black community. We have to have a conversation around how the black community is treated in Austin,” Moore said. “In Austin, it’s not always like this outright, in-your-face racism. It’s more micro-aggressive, passive-aggressive racism here. It’s about the economic brutality. It’s about the gentrification that we deal with here that I don’t think white people really understand.”

One of the project’s lead organizers, Clifford Gillard, board president of Capitol View Arts, which works to elevate artists of color in East Austin, said the installation was a massive effort, with roughly 80 black artists and 50 volunteers combining efforts to produce the mural with street closure help from the Austin Transportation Department. The group was still working on the mural as of press time.

“We still see Black Austin Matters as part of the Black Lives Matter movement, but by putting a local twist on the name we elevate the local black voice,” Gillard said. “Right now, everywhere you turn is Black Lives Matter. We wanted to bring the message home. Let’s talk about black lives in Austin.”

As far as the choice of Congress Avenue, Gillard said there “was no better place in Austin” for a mural to elevate a conversation than the heart of downtown leading to the Texas Capitol. He said he hopes it makes people consider deeper questions about what challenges the city’s black population faces.

“We all love Austin for some reason or another, but then reality checks in: ‘Can I eat? Can I get a good education? Do I have a place to sleep?’” Gillard said. “That’s the conversation we need to have. That’s the statement we made on Congress Avenue. This is to elevate that conversation. Austin has a lot to gain by doing that.”

Gillard said the project’s conception took about a week, and it was financed mostly through Capitol View Arts, which has committed to paying all of the black artists who worked on the project.

“There is power and beauty in this only if we back up the words with action,” District 1 City Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison, the lone black representative on the dais, tweeted about the mural June 16.

Moore said he hopes the mural continues the conversation and forces people throughout the city to consider how deep racial injustice runs in the city.

“If you’re in the education field, start there; if you’re in health and medicine, start there. People should just start wherever they are,” Moore said. “I guarantee that in almost every sector and every bubble we have in life, there are disparities that impact black people more than any other group.”
By Christopher Neely
Christopher Neely is Community Impact's Austin City Hall reporter. A New Jersey native, Christopher moved to Austin in 2016 following years of community reporting along the Jersey Shore. His bylines have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun, USA Today and several other local outlets along the east coast.


The property has been a redevelopment and neighborhood revitalization target for years. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin evaluating 6 plans to redevelop 19-acre St. John site into mixed-use district

The city has long been seeking to rejuvenate the St. John neighborhood property off I-35 with new housing, retail and recreational space.

Students at Norman-Sims Elementary School and Austin ISD's 124 other schools across the district will now be allowed to remove masks during outdoor physical activities with the permission of a parent or guardian. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin ISD makes outdoor masking optional, eases other health, safety restrictions

Students engaging in outdoor physical activity will now have the option to remove masks.

Photo of the Indeed Tower in downtown Austin
Four Central Austin businesses on the move

These Austin businesses are relocating.

Sienna at the Thompson will include 331 apartment rental homes on floors 15 through 31 of the Thompson Hotel, under construction in downtown Austin. (Rendering courtesy Magellan Development Group)
Forthcoming Thompson Hotel in downtown Austin will include apartment rental homes, restaurant from Chicago-based group

Sienna at the Thompson will provide 331 units on floors 15 through 31 of the hotel, while Land and Sea Department will be opening a restaurant on the fourth floor.

House Bill 1024, signed into law May 12, allows restaurants and bars to permanently sell alcoholic beverages to-go. (Courtesy Pexels)
Cocktails to-go are here to stay in Texas: Gov. Greg Abbott signs change into law May 12

Supporters say the change will help restaurants continue to recover from the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

Photo of two people preparing vaccine vials
Austin Public Health: herd immunity could be in sight

Around 70% of Travis County residents currently have some antibody protection from COVID-19.

Rendering of a condo building
Luxury condos moving into former HOPE Outdoor Gallery space

The project's developer is partnering with the gallery to preserve and relocate the site's artwork.

Austin's phased process for moving people experiencing homelessness out of unregulated encampments will roll out through the summer. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)
City officials detail homeless education and enforcement plan with Proposition B ordinances now in effect

The process that will eventually remove the city's homeless encampment begins this month with outreach and warnings and will stretch until late summer with full enforcement.

Residents will have until May 2023 to obtain a Real ID. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
US Department of Homeland Security extends Real ID deadline until 2023

Drivers will have until May 2023 to get the Real ID, which will be required for adults boarding a U.S. commercial flight.

Susan Bailey was elected president of the American Medical Association in June 2020. (Courtesy American Medical Association)
'I am convinced we will beat COVID': American Medical Association President Susan Bailey discusses vaccine successes, myths, challenges

Bailey was elected president of the American Medical Association in June 2020. Much of the organization's focus during that time has been on vaccine transparency and distribution.