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Black Panther Movement Figures on Crenshaw’s Great Wall Defaced with Swastikas

The Crenshaw Wall tells the story of the community’s resilience, strength, beauty, and power. Someone covered the faces of four female Black Panthers (one of which is in the frame) with swastikas on November 29th. The streetlight was down to make way for the Space Shuttle Endeavor as it moved up Crenshaw in 2012. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Earlier today, Jasmyne Cannick alerted the South Central community to the swastikas defacing the "Our Mighty Contribution" mural gracing Crenshaw's 7800-foot-long Great Wall.

Even as she lamented the hate crime, hateful comments were popping up in response to her livestream from Crenshaw (near 52nd Street), including one proclaiming the mural looked better with the swastikas covering the faces of the four female Black Panthers.

"This is our community," she said, "This is what we're dealing with right now."

Members of the community and area artists, including Enkone "Enk One" Goodlow, one of the original artists, had already rallied to erase the hateful symbols.

A few hours later, Cannick reported that the mural had been restored.

Painted by the Rockin' the Nation Crew (see the original 12 RTN members), "Our Mighty Contribution" has rarely been defaced.

The RTN Crew had taken to the wall in 2001 to offer the community a celebration of its resilience. beauty, strength, power, and capacity for innovation.

The wall had long served as a gathering place, especially for those participating in car clubs and low-rider culture throughout the decades. When the crew realized the wall's potential to serve as a medium for communication with the community - such as when "Drifting on a Memory" mourned the death of the young artist "Clever" or the "Rhyme Pays" mural referenced Ice-T and the Rhyme Syndicate's commentaries on their reality - they began to think bigger. Namely, they would try to uplift and unify the community around the story of all that black people had given to the world. [See more photos of Ice-T with the mural here.]

According to crew member Eric "Cre8" Walker, using aerosol paints to tell important stories helped them engage the community and make the art more accessible. It also helped changed people's expectations regarding what art could be.

The finished piece begins with the words, "In the beginning" and walks observers from the dawn of time (where a woman blows peace into the universe) up through present day, where a woman points the way forward and gives birth to the future. Along the way, it features a number of notables, including Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Jimi Hendrix, Louis Armstrong, Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Dizzy Gillespie, and scenes from the community's journey, including slavery, drumming, dancing, and the reclaiming of rights, among others.

The love the community has for the Great Wall means that, for the most part, its greatest enemies have been time and, more recently, the possibility that gentrification will displace the very community the mural is meant to speak to.

Residents line the Great Wall on Crenshaw to await the arrival of the Space Shuttle Endeavor in 2012. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
Residents line the Great Wall on Crenshaw to await the arrival of the Space Shuttle Endeavor in 2012. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
Residents line the Great Wall on Crenshaw to await the arrival of the Space Shuttle Endeavor in 2012. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

The swastikas found today represented a new threat entirely.

Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson quickly released a statement denouncing the graffiti as a "targeted and deliberate act to inflict fear and incite violence" and "yet another example of dangerous, racist sentiment and actions that are beginning to characterize this period of time." His office, the statement said, was working with the LAPD to bring this hate crime to a swift resolution.

The mural, Harris-Dawson's statement also affirmed, was an important cultural asset in the community. As such, he said, it will feature prominently in Destination Crenshaw - the transformation of Crenshaw Boulevard into an outdoor public art space celebrating the contributions of the black community to Los Angeles, California, and the world.

Set to run between 48th and 60th, Destination Crenshaw is a response to Metro's decision to run the Crenshaw/LAX Line through the heart of the last black business corridor in the city instead of putting it underground.

Much as the RTN Crew had responded to oppression by revisiting history and infusing it with new meaning, Destination Crenshaw will inform those passing through Crenshaw on the train that they are in a vibrant black community with a unique and powerful identity.

And much like "Our Mighty Contribution," it intends to represent something much more visceral to the community itself. The "open-air People's Museum" will feature four thematic nodes - Improvisation, Firsts, Dreams, and Togetherness - tracing the trajectory of the community over time, honoring its contributions and innovations, and creating room for ongoing dialogue with community members about where it has been and where it is headed. [The project is set to break ground soon, and should be completed in 2019; read more about it and the art planned for Metro's Crenshaw stations here.]

In the meanwhile, the RTN Crew, Project West, and others have been working to marshal the necessary resources to see "Our Mighty Contribution" fully restored and treated with a special coating to ensure it is preserved.

Harris-Dawson's statement today mentioned funds have been secured for restoration of the mural, but the artists are still looking to do more, including creating an app that would enable visitors to take a self-guided tour of the mural. Hear them speak about their work below and visit their website:

Many thanks to Jasmyne Cannick for getting the word out as quickly as she did.

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