I am proud to live in a town that is part of the Black Lives Matter movement, and commend any community-based project that shows our support. At first I agreed with Chris Cerino and others, worrying about the clash between a modern sentiment expressed in a modern way and the historic character of our town that so many have worked so hard to preserve. I thought that a street mural would amount to just jumping on a bandwagon without respect for the ways in which our town is unique. But at the same time, I tried to understand Karen Somerville’s passionate and moving response to the word, “charm,” in the discussion following a Kent Pilot article. Charm is part of the town’s brand, and is part of what brings so many temporary visitors and long-term residents here. And our charm is inextricably tied to three centuries of history that represent both laudable and reprehensible practices and events. The Tea Party Festival celebrates a period in which some Chestertown residents were fighting for freedom from British oppression while simultaneously oppressing both free and enslaved Blacks. As a white person, I tend to think fondly of the hardscrabble life of the colonists, who were building something new while looking for freedom in what they saw as a wilderness. But that’s only one perspective, and others, like Karen, think with terror of the lynching of James Taylor, the tar and feathering led by the town’s Sheriff of a Black woman, and the ships bringing “their chained merchandise to auctions selling Black Lives.” So can we cover up every artifact, facade, and reminder of that history? Should we tear down every old building and rebuild with no reference to the past? No, we can’t and we shouldn’t. But the stark juxtaposition between a modern street mural and a historic town would make it blatantly clear to all that we are not trying to live in the past, and that we are overlaying our present values and beliefs on top of our historic town. The placement of the mural in the heart of our historic district would make sure that visitors and residents alike could not see one without the other.
I have seen references both to long-term maintenance of the mural and to the mural as temporary. To me, there will always be a need for the mural in our town, as there will always be a need to balance the pleasant aesthetic charm that some people see with the dark parts of our history that other people see.