Community mural to honor C.T. Vivian’s Macomb connections to be unveiled July 30

C.T.-Vivian

| Photo courtesy of Western Illinois University

MACOMB, Ill. – The memory of the late Rev. Dr. C.T. Vivian, a Macomb native and Civil Rights activist, is being celebrated one brushstroke at a time as Western Illinois University art professor emeritus Michael Mahoney works to complete a 70-foot public mural at the intersection of Macomb’s N. Randolph and E. Carroll streets.

The mural, which will be unveiled at a public ceremony Saturday, July 30, depicts accomplishments during the pastor’s life. Vivian, who grew up in Macomb, graduated from Macomb High School and WIU, passed away at age 95 in July 2020.

Several locations in Macomb are currently named for Vivian, including a section of West Adams near the entrance of the WIU campus, and a section of Murray in front of the university union, as well as the library at Macomb High School.

As a professor, Mahoney taught art at WIU until his 2005 retirement, when he became a professional artist full time.

The initial idea for the mural project came from Byron Oden-Shabazz, a building services foreman at the university. Oden-Shabazz has done extensive work to commemorate Vivian’s connection to the Macomb community, as well as to his life’s work, and had an early idea for adding a local Black history mural locally. He began talking with Jock Hedblade, executive director of the Macomb Area Convention and Visitor’s Bureau about ideas to commemorate Macomb’s part in Vivian’s life. The idea of a mural emerged and Hedblade suggested Mahoney to be the artist to complete it.

“Mike and I went to lunch, and I gave him an idea of what I was looking for,” Oden-Shabazz said in a press release. “He drew out an original sketch and said, ‘Here is what I’m thinking.'”

Mahoney said he used photographs to create the sketch and then projected it onto the wall, just off the Macomb square, to draw the outlines.

“I was initially excited to have a 70-foot canvas,” said Mahoney. “I didn’t know a lot about C.T. before this. I didn’t know him and had never met him. After I did some research, I got really excited. This mural shows the power images can have. There is a real program to this composition. It is key elements of his public life.” As his research progressed, Mahoney said he was continually struck by Vivian’s integrity.

Mahoney began painting June 3 and has worked every day, unless it has rained.

“The mural is such hard work. There were hot, hot days,” he said. “But I am enjoying this as much as anything I’ve ever done artistically.”

As Mahoney painted, he said countless cars and pedestrians have slowed or stopped to comment on the artwork and its importance to local history.

Throughout the process, Mahoney has brought volunteers on board to help with the painting. He said he has chosen art colleagues and those who have other artistic experienc, to work on the project, which is done with black and white paint and many shades of gray in between.

The left side of the mural is an image of Vivian appearing to ponder the other images that make up his life and his work. The right side has an image of former President Barack Obama fastening the Presidential Medal of Freedom around Vivian’s neck in 2013. In striking contrast, beside the Presidential Medal of Freedom picture, is an image of Vivian with a Jackson, Miss., police placard around his neck after his arrest during a demonstration there.

Oden-Shabazz said Vivian has been an inspiration to his own life, particularly as he researched his accomplishments as part of his graduate studies at Western. Oden-Shabazz was also part of the effort to receive a state historical designation for the E. Pierce St. location of the Macomb home where Vivian was raised.

“He made me reassess what love really means; he made it an action word,” Oden-Shabazz said. “Here we have a figure this large who was an integral part of the Civil Rights movement. He was truly a man of action.”

Oden-Shabazz said he hopes to create an annual event in Macomb recognizing Vivian, which could grow to include a diversity conference, scheduled around his July birthday.

As part of the celebration of the mural’s completion, a panel discussion will be held at 6:30 p.m. Friday, July 29, at the Western Illinois Museum, just south of downtown Macomb. The mural will be unveiled at noon Saturday, July 30, at 135 N. Randolph St. A reception will follow at the Macomb Arts Center, 25 East Side Square, from 3-4 p.m. The featured speaker at the event will be the Rev. Dr. Earle J. Fisher, Ph.D. All events are open to the public.

Vivian’s family is scheduled to attend the mural unveiling. The event will also include a remembrance of Vivian by the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, of which Vivian, his son, and Oden-Shabazz are members.

The weekend will culminate Sunday, July 31, with the Freedom Fund Banquet of the McDonough County chapter of the NAACP. The event begins at 2 p.m. in the Heritage Room of the University Union. Tickets for the banquet are $40 and are available by emailing mcdnaacp@gmail.com.

The space on the side of the building was donated to mural organizers. Oden-Shabazz has sought donations to pay for the mural and the celebration. Anyone seeking to help with the project can mail donations to the Macomb Community Foundation at Macomb City Hall, 232 E. Jackson, and mark the donation for the Vivian mural. Donations are tax-deductible.

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