As part of the City of Hattiesburg’s agenda to get more public artwork in the community, officials recently unveiled the Hub City’s newest mural – “Let There Be Light,” a tribute to “the Hattiesburg spirit” and the iconic Hub Sign that once sat on top of the Ross Building on Front Street.
A ribbon cutting was held Oct. 7 at the site of the mural, which is located on the west side of the city parking garage facing The Porter on Pine Street. The top of the mural depicts the Hub Sign as it appeared in the early 1900s, while the bottom features a quote from Rev. E.D. Solomon: “It is the Hattiesburg spirit to go after things and to get them, especially large things.”
“I’ve always been fascinated by the myth of the Hub Sign,” Mayor Toby Barker said. “In fact, as we got into three years in our administration, we started bringing back the use of the Hub Sign when it comes to city imagery.
“We drop the ball at midnight (on New Year’s Eve), and that’s a replica of the Hub Sign, and we’ve always wanted to see a representation of that dotting the skyline in our downtown.”
The mural was painted by Hattiesburg native Kym Garraway, while River Prince, owner and operator of Prince Sign Company, handled the lettering at the bottom. The project was done in cooperation with the Hattiesburg Alliance for Public Art and the Downtown Hattiesburg Association.
“I want to not only want to be a part of this town my entire life, but I want to leave a legacy in this town for my children’s children,” Garraway said. “My grandfather and my great-grandfather helped to put together Temple Baptist Church, and my whole family has been here their whole life, and I had to make a choice to stay here and make it.
“This is a way I can make a living and be here, so I want my grandchildren to go by when I’m gone and go, ‘my grandmother did that.’ That’s the whole reason I did it.”
The original Hub Sign – which celebrated Hattiesburg’s central location between Jackson, Meridian, Mobile, Gulfport, New Orleans and Natchez – was unveiled on Thanksgiving Day 1912. Manufactured and donated to the Commercial Club for the benefit of the city by the Henry L. Doherty Company, the sign adorned the top of the Ross Building until World War II, when it was deconstructed and sold off for the war’s scrap metal drives.
“During that (1912) celebration, thousands of people came into downtown, and they sat there until the moment that Dr. J.E. Donald turned to Dr. T.E. Ross and said, ‘let there be light,” Barker said. “He turned it on, and it was a moment where shouts emerged, and it was a real pivotal moment in the formation and the growth of the city.”
Solomon – then pastor of Columbia Street Baptist Church, which later became Main Street Baptist Church – spoke at the original unveiling and gave the “Hattiesburg spirit” quote.
“Little did he know how prophetic his words were, because that same year was the year that a little teacher’s college opened up west of (U.S.) 49 in the middle of the woods, which we know now as the University of Southern Mississippi,” Barker said. “A few decades later, Forrest General Hospital came to be, and as time has gone on we’ve seen Camp Shelby, which happened later that decade.
“We’ve seen the growth of two major medical facilities, as Methodist Hospital became Merit Health Wesley, as William Carey has continued its development in the addition of a medical school. If I had a wish for our city, and a wish for the people of our city, it’s for them to live into that value of the Hattiesburg spirit of going after big things – punching above our waists, but pushing ourselves to be a bigger class and play in a bigger league.”
Garraway said she was excited for the opportunity to paint the new mural.
“It is amazing what this town can do if we just come together and use our talents and efforts to promote love and unity amongst ourselves,” she said. “We have got a great place to live, and there are great people here, and we can all come together.”
Barker said public art is especially important in turbulent times, and it’s vital that people see hope and progress wherever they can.
“And I believe it’s a long-term economic driver that can bring more people to Hattiesburg and set us apart,” he said.