Jackson State University’s new mural memorializes legacy of literary icons

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The mural titled “In Bloom” is dedicated to literary icons Margaret Walker Alexander and Phillis Wheatley. It is located in the College of Liberal Arts Dollye M.E. Robinson building on the fourth floor. (Photo: William H. Kelly III/JSU University Communications)

JANS – Jackson State University’s (JSU) College of Liberal Arts unveiled a new mural in the Department of English and Modern Languages (EML) thanks to a $5,000 project grant awarded by the Mississippi Arts Commission (MAC). The mural is dedicated to literary icons Margaret Walker Alexander and Phillis Wheatley and the 50th Anniversary reconvening of the Phillis Wheatley Poetry Festival that occurred in November 2023. 

JSU alumnus, grant writer, and EML English Instructor LaWanda Dickens hopes that students, faculty, staff, and visitors feel a sense of connection and legacy when spectating the one-of-a-kind piece. 

“Every Jackson State student hears about Dr. Margaret Walker. Her name comes up in orientation and so much of our programming across campus. My hope is that they will get to experience her in a more visual and colorful way through the mural,” Dickens said. “I feel like this really works in partnership with the Margaret Walker Center in terms of honoring her memory here on this campus. So, they should visit the Margaret Walker Center first for an introduction and stop by the Department of English and Modern Languages to see the mural.” 

The MAC is committed to funding efforts through its project grant program to expand arts activities and accessibility across Mississippi, ultimately supporting the agency’s primary goals. JSU alumnus Reshonda Perryman was specially selected as the artist for the project after her sought-after branding for the Phillis Wheatley Poetry Festival (PWPF). 

Titled “In Bloom,” the piece represents planting seeds, creating beautiful food, and giving the literary icons “their flowers.” 

“Whenever I have subjects that are different, I try to find the parallels and see what works. So, one theme I noticed in their work was flowers. So Margaret referenced flowers a lot and used them as an analogy for different things, especially when she spoke about Jackson. When I read up on Phillis Wheatley, she did the same thing,” Perryman said.  

While preparing for the project, Perryman conducted research and was directed to a piece by Margaret Walker dedicated to Jackson, Mississippi. The piece was among the favorites of faculty and staff, including EML Department Chair Ebony Lumumba, Ph.D. 

“One of the things I found in that piece was lots and lots of flower references. So I knew right away that I wanted to work flowers into the mural in some way, but I didn’t want it to just be a random hodgepodge of flowers on the wall. I wanted it to have a meaning,” Perryman said. “The way I laid out Walker and the way I combined them, I wanted them to look like flowers mixed in with the other flowers in it.”

Some of the flowers used for inspiration include red zinnias, double ruffle petunias, and the oriental poppy rose geranium. The colors used in the mural are a combination of JSU’s branding colors and complementary traditional floral colors. 

As a graduate of JSU’s Department of Art, housed in the College of Liberal Arts, Perryman says that this project was a full-circle moment. 

“A lot of my classes were right down the hall from where I painted the mural, so I thought it was really cool to get to do that,” Perryman said. “It’s always an honor, and it’s always fun to come back and do something at Jackson State. That’s where I really honed my skills as an artist and a graphic designer, so it’s great to both influence the students and to get something back to the university.”

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Jackson State University’s new mural memorializes legacy of literary icons

By Jackson Advocate News Service
April 1, 2024