MONTCLAIR, NJ - An original mural dedicated to the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement now hangs in the second floor vestibule of the Montclair Public Library at 50 South Fullerton Avenue.
In a two-part presentation for residents, the work of the late artist Don Miller was displayed for all to see. Presented by his son, Craig Miller, a pictorial PowerPoint presentation took residents through the timeline of how the great mural came about.
In 1986, Miller had created a mural tribute to the civil rights movement that now hangs at 7 feet high and 56 feet long in the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in Washington, D.C. Craig explained that it took his father nearly two years to complete the mural that was unveiled during a celebration that packed in nearly 4000 people into the library, marking the first time that King's birthday was observed as a national holiday.
The resurgence of interest in Miller's work came from Frank Gerard Godlewski, a Montclair native and local historian, who knew of the mural and wanted to bring light to Miller's work.
Godlewski added that in 2004, he presented to the Montclair Historical Society (now Montclair History Center), to raise awareness about the mural. "Here we are in 2016 and it is finally happening."
He continued, "I am just so pleased. It has been an idea that a copy of this mural should be installed someplace in Montclair so that it could be used as a learning tool."
Godlewski said that he had been working on this initiative for many years, "It took over ten years to bring about." Over a month ago, Godlewski brought the idea to the attention of the Montclair Rotary Club and they made some connections with Montclair Library officials to display the mural in a two-part presentation for the community.
Craig said that his father would have been very proud to see his work displayed in the MPL, especially since his dad had been president of the MPL Board of Trustees in the 1970's.
A mini version of the exact mural now hangs inside of the Montclair Public Library. Craig explained to the audience that this version is an original work, called a maquette, which was the model used by Miller as a sample when creating the larger piece.
The larger mural is comprised of several panels, displaying the notable “I Have A Dream” speech to the bus boycott in Montgomery, AL. Craig also jokingly said that his father began painting his family members and friends as faces in the crowd during the marches displayed on the mural.
Craig explained how his father had always wanted to be an artist since his youth and was able to live out that dream comfortably for the rest of his life. He further explained that amount of hours his father spent studying the life of Dr. King and that everything, even down to the music he chose to listen to, had inspired him to create the meticulous vision of the movement.
As his father worked on the mural, over the two-year duration, Craig explained that his father studied over 20 books and historical pictures, as well as received visits from many famed civil rights activists. One such visit came from Rosa Parks, who even corrected Miller's work.
Craig said that Parks told his dad that the bus name was incorrect and his father immediately made the adjustment, "It was not Capital Heights, it was actually Cleveland Avenue,” Craig said. “If Rosa Parks tells you what the sign on the bus was, you get up on that scaffold and you repaint it.”
Craig showed pictures of how they transported the mural to DC when it was complete. He even displayed pictures of mason's removing bricks from the side of the building to get the mural out. He and his father then drove behind the truck as it transported the mural to it's permanent home in DC.
Godlewski added that after he told the Miller family of plans to highlight the work of Miller, that the family graciously offered to donate the maquette to the MPL. "The Miller family was so pleased and offered to donate the original maquette to the library."
Godlewski said that he hopes that the maquette can be used as a learning tool about the history of the Civil Rights Movement and artist Don Miller. "It's in the mezzanine and it's in a space dedicated as a learning center about the piece." He continued, "It's a learning tool about the civil rights movement."
Miller’s widow, Dr. Julia Miller, and many family members, were also in the audience, along with Montclair Mayor Robert Jackson, Fourth Ward Councilor Dr. Renee Baskerville and Assemblywoman Mila Jasey.