A journey through time: The George Moses Horton Middle School mural

By Gene Galin

Pittsboro, NC – A mural at George Moses Horton Middle School in Pittsboro stands as a testament to the rich history and significant contributions of African-Americans in Chatham County. Mary Nettles, a community leader and advocate, provides an insightful tour of the mural, sharing the stories behind each element and its relevance to the local heritage.

A Tribute to African-American History

The mural, prominently displaying “Africa” at its top, immediately grabs attention. Ships depicted in the artwork symbolize the historical journey from West Africa, underscoring the roots of many African-Americans in the region. “It’s important to remember where we came from,” Nettles emphasizes, “and the mural does just that.”

The Ferris Wheel and the Fairgrounds

A ferris wheel featured in the mural represents the Chatham County Fair, which has been a significant event in the community since 1950. Nettles points out, “The fair has always been a place where everyone came together, regardless of race. It’s a symbol of unity and celebration.”

The Churches and Their Legacy

One of the mural’s most detailed sections is a church that symbolizes three historically important churches in the area: Mitchell Chapel AME Zion, Mount Missionary Baptist Zion, and Belmont AME Zion. Each part of the church depicted in the mural carries its own story and historical significance.

Mitchell Chapel AME Zion

Established in 1867, Mitchell Chapel started as a brush arbor, a simple open-sided shelter. “It had the largest black congregation in the area,” Nettles notes, highlighting its role as a spiritual and community center.

Mount Missionary Baptist Zion

With a history spanning over 170 years, Mount Missionary Baptist Zion is one of the oldest black churches in the region. Its inclusion in the mural serves as a reminder of its longstanding impact on the community.

Belmont AME Zion

Belmont, built in 1930 from salvaged materials, was a landmark until its demolition in 2018. “Its history is preserved in the mural, ensuring it’s not forgotten,” Nettles says.

Honoring Community Leaders

The mural also features portraits of prominent community leaders who have shaped Chatham County’s history.

Isaiah Taylor

Isaiah Taylor, depicted in a suit, was a principal at Horton High School and a member of the Pittsboro Town Board. “He dedicated 31 years to education, transforming the school into a thriving institution,” Nettles explains.

Charlie Baldwin Sr.

Charlie Baldwin Sr., a hardworking farmer, played a pivotal role in establishing the Chatham County Fair Association and the local NAACP branch. “His legacy is one of perseverance and community service,” Nettles reflects.

Reverend Rufus Vassie Horton

Reverend Horton, part-owner of a grocery store and author, provided crucial counseling and support to the community. “He encouraged the youth to be their best,” Nettles adds, “and his influence is still felt today.”

Celebrating Unsung Heroes

The mural also honors less widely known but equally important figures, such as midwife Cordia Glover, who delivered over 1,000 babies in Chatham County, and Edgar Bland, the first African-American to join the county sheriff’s department.

Geraldine DeGraffenreidt was known throughout town as a leader with energy. She was committed to making sure there was a proper Black History Program for the county, which was held annually at the former Horton Middle School.

Lillie Rodgers, a teacher, is included to represent the importance of Black educators. She started the daycare at Mt. Sinai and Mitchell Chapel. She was also known for providing clothing for anyone in need.

Preserving and Promoting Heritage

The creation of the mural was a collaborative effort, involving numerous community members and leaders. “We wanted to ensure that the history of African-Americans in Chatham County was not just remembered but celebrated,” Nettles explains.

The Process and Design

The mural consists of multiple panels, each meticulously planned and designed. “We had several meetings to decide what should be included,” Nettles says. “It was a community effort, with input from many people.”

Interactive Learning

An innovative feature of the mural is its interactive QR code. Visitors can scan the code with their phones to learn more about the individuals and events depicted. “It’s a great way to engage with the mural and learn about our history,” Nettles says.