BMBPRF was commissioned by the Arts Council of the Valley, Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance and the City of Harrisonburg to paint the western wall of the Elizabeth Street Parking Deck. For this mural BMBPRF chose to depict Harrisonburg, Va.'s most compelling historical figure, Lucy F. Simms. His decision to do so was supported by the aforementioned organizations as well as by the popular vote of the Harrisonburg Community. The City of Harrisonburg welcomed the opportunity to increase the reverie held for this hero who was born near the very place that this wall with her likeness now so colorfully stands.
Though born a slave, Simms graduated from the Hampton Institute in 1877 and managed a 57 year teaching career, only missing one half of a day due to illness. Simms' impact as an educator was palpable in the development of a culturally and economically vibrant African American Community, known as Newtown. Newtown, like many other African American communities across the nation was razed to the ground during the federal government's various "urban renewal" projects. Such projects are now recognized as having racist motives. The mural and parking deck occupies, in part, the same physical space that the Newtown Community once occupied.
Though she taught in a segregated school system and was only regarded for her greatness by the African American Community until more recent years, she is now recognized as the most famous and adored educator to ever give a lesson in Harrisonburg and perhaps the region. Testament to this are the hoards school children today in the City and County who know her by name and will proudly tell you details about her virtuous and devoted life.
Yes, Simms' impact remains palpable to this day, with a school and community center, as well as a scholarship named for her. Additionally, she is now literally held on high with her image against the sky where passers-by can marvel at the monolithic historical figure that is Lucy Frances Simms and thanks to a small plaque tourists can even learn a few of the basic details about her life and come to understand why they should find her image displayed so honorably in the heart of The Friendly City.