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.


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