Banners highlight activist legacy
- Published: April 13, 2021
By Elle Peifer
“Let Ohio Women Vote”
“Black Lives Matter”
“Trans Rights Are Human Rights”
Yellow Springers have been long involved in fighting for social justice. Over the decades, villagers have protested against racism, sexism and war, and advocated for LGBTQ+ rights and environmental protection, among many other issues.
To draw attention to this activist legacy, the Yellow Springs Arts and Culture Commission has created a banner series now adorning the lampposts on Dayton Street and Xenia Avenue downtown.
The banners showcase images of posters that have been used during demonstrations here and elsewhere in the country. The first round of 15 banners went up in early January. Now, there are 28 posters displayed in the exhibit. The posters date from the early 19th century to contemporary posters used as recently as this past summer.
Inspired by last year’s Black Lives Matter rallies in the village, a subcommittee of the Village Arts and Culture Commission began brainstorming the Protest Poster Banner Project in the fall.
Amy Wamsley, an Arts and Culture Commission member, said the group wanted to respond to the surge of local anti-racist activity.
“There were discussions of murals and other things around town. But we started to talk about posters and what could come out of protest posters,” she said.
Wamsley, the human resources director of YMCA for Greater Dayton, said the YS Arts and Culture Commission began to list prominent advocates of various causes who live in Yellow Springs. The list was multigenerational.
One longtime activist named was Catherine Roma, who also happened to be an Arts and Culture Commission member. Roma, who has lived in Yellow Springs for eight years, is best known locally as the director of the World House Choir, a social justice choir based here. She also has been involved in a variety of social justice issues, including antiwar and LGBTQ rights efforts.
Roma had a trove of protest posters she wanted to share with the community.
“I have all these posters around and I wanted to share them because I can’t have everyone in my house,” she said. “I want people to be able to appreciate them.”
Among the posters Roma contributed was one for the U.N. International Women’s Year in 1975, inspired by the song “Bread and Roses,” featuring two women, one with darker skin and one with lighter skin, holding flags that say, “Freedom to Choose” and “Power to Change.” She also contributed a striking red and blue poster, “Libertad Para Angela Davis,” a famous 1971 Cuban silk screen calling for the Black feminist to be released from jail; a poster from a 1982 nuclear disarmament march; and a 1966 California peace concert poster with performances by Joan Baez and the Grateful Dead.
The commission also contacted the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center in Wilberforce about posters in their collection.
The museum contributed several posters to the local banner project. One poster commemorates African Liberation Day on May 26, 1963, in Columbus’ Franklin Park. Another is a rally schedule celebrating the 1959 Big Harlem African Freedom Rally in New York City. They also submitted posters from a 1991 protest for justice for Rodney King and a 1963 Malcom X rally in Harlem, among others.
The group also solicited posters from community members through social media and the Yellow Springs News. The posters then went through a selection process. Diversity was a goal.
“We knew that we wanted a wide range of posters,” Roma said. “We wanted Black Lives Matter, anti-war, trans movement, lesbian and gay lives; we wanted the environmental issues, women’s issues. … I am a believer that everything is tied together, but it is really important for people to see visually these different issues come to life through images.”
The commission members decided that they wanted the posters to have been used in past demonstrations. They had to ensure that the posters would read well mounted as banners on the downtown lamp posts. The team also considered the public impact of the messages and images depicted.
“Some of the stuff that we are posting is very sensitive material, so we had to make sure it wasn’t going to trigger anyone,” Wamsley said.
Other posters selected for the project include one stating, “Choose Solar Power for a Brighter Future,” submitted by Pat Fife; a poster with photos by Axel Bahnsen of the Gegner barber shop protests in Yellow Springs in 1963; an “I’m With Her” poster used at the 2017 Women’s March in Washington, submitted by Christine Monroe-Beard; a poster used during the women’s suffrage movement in the early 19th century, with the message “Let Ohio Women Vote;” one stating “Trans Rights Are Human Rights,” created by Matt Walker; and several from the local Quaker community, including posters promoting sanctuary and migrant justice.
The Arts and Culture Commission not only wanted the posters to be visually appealing, they also wanted them to be educational. Specifically, they wanted to drive home the idea that many issues are perennial, Wamsley said.
“We wanted to provide an educational piece for the community regarding the socioeconomic inequities in the past and the present,” Wamsley said, “because a lot of what we are protesting now has been protested throughout time.”
The Arts and Culture Commission is an official commission of Yellow Springs Village Council. The Village assisted the poster initiative by erecting the banners and contributing funding.
Wamsley said the posters are “an educational tool for the community and for visitors.” She learned a lot from the project and hopes others do too. She quoted the saying, “those who don’t know the past are condemned to repeat it,” in describing the mission of the project.
“That is a lot about what this project meant,” she said. “It is not only a celebration of activists, a celebration of standing up for what is right and what people believe in, but it is also a history lesson of everything we have been through.”
To learn more about the project and individual posters, community members and visitors can visit the Village of Yellow Springs website and click the tab that reads “The Poster Banner Project 2021,” or by scanning the QR code found downtown near the posters.
*The writer is an Ohio Wesleyan University junior and Yellow Springs Community Foundation Miller Fellow working for the News. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.