A student-made portrait of civil rights icon Clarence B. Jones gets new display
Palmyra High School’s Clarence B. Jones project, led by former history teacher Dan Licata, was an undertaking that brought staff and students together and enlightened them to Palmyra’s little-known connection to civil rights history.
Several months after the unveiling of a student-made portrait commissioned as part of the initiative, Jones’ image proudly hangs outside the renamed Dr. Clarence B Jones Library in a frame fit for a King’s speechwriter.
Jones, a PHS alumni best known for co-writing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, isn’t a figure whose name registers with many Americans. Even art teacher Mike Budden admits that when staff approached him to facilitate the painting, he was not all that familiar with King’s trusted attorney and advisor.
“It was definitely a learning experience for me, too,” Budden said. “I was introduced to Jones’ background, his association with Martin Luther King Jr., and then he came and gave a presentation to the students about his life and growing up in Palmyra. It made everyone more aware of [Palmyra’s] history.”
The June 7 visit, Jones’ first since graduating from PHS at the top of his class in 1949, was a two-day event that came to fruition through the combined efforts of Licata and Palmyra Public Schools’ public information officer, Valerie Still.
“It’s all about our little community and how we can make things better,” Still told The Sun in April.
Now that the portrait, which took Budden and a team of six students about three weeks to complete, has a home in a customized oak frame, the display is better, too.
Over the course of two days, maintenance workers Jerry Boregard and Dave Simpkins worked tirelessly to construct the 4-foot-by-8-foot frame. Simpkins remarked that both men enjoyed the challenge and the opportunity to participate in such an important community project.
“The framing really brings it together and makes our work feel complete,” said senior Rebekah Allen, who contributed to the painting process with students Jacob Wolfe, Carolyn Van Artsdalen, Jenelle Belton, Brett Maute and Sean Stocker. “It feels really awesome to be able to finally show the outcome of the research and work we did together.”
Initially, the project’s leaders hoped to assemble a mosaic, but with little time or funding available, the creators opted for acrylic paints. Allen, who also helped develop the concept, said they were careful to spotlight Jones’ individual significance so as not to overshadow his contributions with the magnitude of King’s legacy.
Though the masterpiece may be bordered by the wooden trimming that affixes it to the wall, the school-wide endeavor has undoubtedly eliminated the borders between today’s PHS students and the school’s history.
“I’m proud of how it came out and that the kids were able to find their place in the project,” Budden added. “It was a team effort.”