This column is written and sponsored by Arlington Arts/Arlington Cultural Affairs, a division of Arlington Economic Development.
Being received at a restaurant with a welcoming smile and a warm meal would seem the basic expectation for any customer. Sadly, well into the 1960s widespread segregation denied such everyday courtesies to African-Americans and other people of color.
In this latest Art on the ART Bus installation, The Desegregation of Arlington Lunch Counters: 60th Anniversary Tribute by Amos Paul Kennedy, Jr., the nationally-renowned printmaker has created placards that commemorate the landmark sit-in’s which took place between June 9 and 22, in 1960. Kennedy interviewed local residents, historians and participants in the sit-ins, and the placards contain poignant quotes from several of these individuals.
While the sit-ins at Maryland’s popular Glen Echo Amusement Park are better remembered today, they were in-fact precipitated by the sit-ins at Arlington earlier that same summer. A pivotal tool in the 1960’s civil rights movement, “sit-ins” were strategic, planned protests that challenged widespread segregation policies.
African-American customers would merely sit down at a segregated lunch counter (often at a major national chain such as a Woolworth’s) and wait for service which, either by custom or local law, was routinely denied. Eventually, the pressure of what we would now call ‘the optics’ brought about an end to such corporate policies nationwide.
Amos Paul Kennedy Jr., creates prints, posters and postcards from handset wood and metal type, oil-based inks, and eco-friendly chipboard. Much of his work is inspired by proverbs, sayings and quotes that are significant to the place he is working.
The decade-old Art on the ART Bus program is a partnership between Arlington Arts and Arlington Transit. Instead of the ads for soap, salsa and soda that riders expect to see in the overhead frames, thousands of Arlington commuters regularly experience original artwork as they head to their jobs. Sometimes there are up to three specially outfitted Art on the ART Bus vehicles in circulation, each scheduled randomly each day, bringing art to a different route through Arlington.
The project is curated by the Arlington Art Truck and Arlington Public Art which are programs of Arlington Arts. It is in collaboration with the County’s Historic Preservation Program, Arlington Public Library, Center for Local History and Arlington Transit’s Art on the ART bus program.
This installation is the first of several commemorative activations based upon printmaker Amos Paul Kennedy, Jr’s work that will continue to unfold during the Spring of 2020. For more information about the Art on the ART Bus program, click here.