On a sunny South Dallas day, spoken word artist Derrick Walker delivered a poem dedicated to civil rights activist and neighborhood icon Juanita Craft, on what would have been her 122nd birthday.
Behind Walker towered a mural of Craft’s smiling, determined portrait, contextualizing his lyrics: “It’s just another way to innovate as we communicate common stories, to common people, about uncommon history, shared with our community with unity.”
The new mural depicting Craft at the corner of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. is the first in a series of four South Dallas “legacy murals.” Commissioned by the The Walls Project, The Epiphany Foundation, and New Era Booking, the blue-and-yellow homage to the late civil rights leader was created by South Dallas native and Legendary Lincoln High School graduate Lakeem Wilson.
Wilson grew up just a few blocks from the mural’s home on Warren, where Craft lived. Though Craft died before Wilson was born, he learned about her legacy and passions through her family and his neighbors.
“It was a great process to take what she stood for, in the NAACP, and in equity, to put it in visual form,” Wilson says. “I drove by these streets hundreds of times … so to be doing this in the same neighborhood that I grew up in is a great pleasure.”
Dora Reynosa, who created the “Juanita Craft” lettering to the side of the mural, submitted her own proposal for the main installation but she says she was glad the opportunity went to a South Dallas native.
“I was so grateful that I got to collaborate with Lakeem,” Reynosa says. “The message that it displays is so beautiful. He was able to understand [her impact] a lot more than I would be able to understand it. I drive down this street every day and I’ve seen this building for a long time, but Lakeem really understood what [the assignment] meant.”
Walls Project Casey Phillips says Hasani Burton, the owner of the building, jumped at the opportunity to have the mural on his exterior walls. Burton purchased the building in 2020 and plans to open it as Kemet Media this coming summer.
As an artist and a South Dallas resident, Burton sees the revitalization efforts in the community as the start of something bigger.
“South Dallas is preparing to go through a renaissance in the next 10 years, mark my words,” Burton says. “South. Dallas. Renaissance. It starts today, and it starts with great artists like Lakeem Wilson.”
Wilson says the bright yellows and blues of the piece were inspired by the “Keep South Dallas Sunny” mantra, which also appears in the mural.
“Justice is important for communities like South Dallas,” Wilson says. “I think it’s important to bridge generations, teaching [upcoming generations] the information and understanding of why civil rights and equal rights and justice is so important.”
In the coming year, community members can look forward to three more installations by The Walls Project. The next mural — with an unveiling scheduled April 4 — will honor the late Bishop Omar Jahwar on the side of Doc’s Corner Mart on Spring Avenue, next to the Good Urban Development real estate project in Mill City.
A third mural will honor the late William Blair Jr. in Bonton’s William Blair Jr. Park, sometime later this year. The Walls Project is also commissioning a mural of Dr. Harry Robinson, president and CEO of the African American History Museum, but are still looking for a location in the Fair Park area.
The Walls Project partnered with the South Dallas community to create legacy awards in each of the mural subjects’ honor. During last week’s unveiling, the Juanita Craft Legacy Award was presented to Candace Thompson, chair of the Friends of Juanita Craft Civil Rights House & Museum’s board of directors.
“We also have a responsibility to leave legacies,” Thompson says. “And what we’re doing here is begetting future legacies.
“Understand that we have a charge to carry forward and build a legacy for [all of] us.”