Oxford Girl Scout Presents Her Mural Honoring Three Slain Civil Rights Workers of 1964 Freedom Summer


Talawanda senior, Ella Cope finishes her civil rights mural commemorating martyred civil rights workers trained in Oxford during the Freedom Summer of 1964. The mural will be mounted on the side of an uptown building Friday evening.  Photo by Rebecca Huff

By Rebecca Huff

After eight months of planning, designing and painting, Ella Cope is presenting her Civil Rights Mural to the Oxford Community at 6:30 p.m., Friday, June 14.

The mural is an 8 feet by 24 feet piece that will be hung on an outside wall of the Rittgers & Rittgers law firm, 121 W. High St., facing the Community Arts Center on College Avenue.

Cope, a rising senior at Talawanda High School, received a $1,000 grant from the E. W. Smith Family Charitable Trust to create the mural as a project for her Gold award from the Girl Scouts of America. The mural honors three civil rights volunteers who trained in Oxford during the Freedom Summer of 1964 and were murdered in Mississippi by members of the Ku Klux Klan a few weeks later as they tried to register voters there.

Today’s presentation will be part of the art center’s second Friday Celebration of the Arts.

Susan Osborn, chief operating officer of Girl Scouts of Western Ohio will be speaking at the event. She will be discussing the history of Girl Scouts and how it pertains to civil rights.

“In 1956, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. described Girl Scouts as ‘a force for desegregation,’” Osborn said. “Ella’s project reflects and celebrates this tradition.”

Along with Osborn, Pastor Darryl L. Jackson of First Baptist Church is also speaking at the event. Oxford residents can expect to hear about the impact that the murdered civil rights volunteers, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, had on Oxford while listening to his brief speech.

“We are connected to these freedom riders in a small kind of way; this sheds a bigger light to why we should never forget what their whole purpose was—to get people down there registered to vote—and now we have a right to vote and won’t that to me would throw some dim light on what they stood for,” he said.

Jackson’s church choi, along with the choir of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal church also located in Oxford, will be singing a few songs from the freedom summer era.

Some songs may include “We Shall Overcome,” “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around,” and “How I Got Over.”

Jackson emphasized that the list is not finalized yet because it all depends on the atmosphere and mood of the people at the event.

“We didn’t have a rehearsal because during that freedom time, they didn’t have rehearsals. They just sung what came out of their hearts,” he said. “These are songs that they would have sung and songs that we sing repeatedly and are familiar with and we still feel these pains.”

Cope estimated that the event will be over around 7 p.m.

She chose to create a mural for the Oxford community to earn her Gold Award in Girl Scouts. She has been a Girl Scout since the third grade and has worked her way up through the ranks to reach the level of Ambassador. Cope has already earned her bronze and silver medal.

“I wanted something that was going to stay here longer than I was because I’ll leave for college and I wanted an opportunity to leave a lasting mark on Oxford,” Cope said.

The Oxford community hasn’t had many mural installations. The most recent murals were window paintings in 2018 hosted by Enjoy Oxford, but Joe Prescher a member of the Oxford Public Arts Commission and the artist behind the mural, believes that this will open doors to more murals being proposed to cover the bare walls of Oxford buildings.

“I love doing murals and I’ve been trying to do murals in town for quite a while,” he said. “And the whole reason for the birth of PACO was to bring and expand the cultural life of Oxford and to get some stuff going in terms of art.”

PACO played a small role in the mural project. The commission wrote in its meeting minutes, “PACO has no official participation or position concerning the project except to have given encouragement to Ella Cope when she met with the commission,” Prescher said.

The mural depicts the blue station wagon that the three freedom riders were traveling in when they were killed in Mississippi. The burned-out car was discovered during the investigation of their deaths. The mural has been painted on panels in the Cope family’s barn, and will be mounted on the wall Uptown.

Cope will also be creating a trifold guide describing the mural which will be available in the visitor’s center and the arts center in the days after the celebration on Friday.