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Frances Chlöe Jones-Whitman stands in front of the mural she designed at Persip Park on Friday.
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From top left, clockwise: the Rev. Samuel Harrison, Elizabeth Freeman, Agrippa Hull, W.E.B. Du Bois, Stephanie Wilson, James Van Der Zee and Frances Jones-Sneed.
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Mayor linda Tyer, left, Pittsfield Cultural Director Jennifer Glockner, and Frances Chlöe Jones-Whitman

'Black Abundance' Mural Reveal Kicks Off Pittsfield Juneteenth

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
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Frances Chlöe Jones-Whitman says she wanted to incorporate historical and contemporary figures to impress that people who made a difference aren't just in the distant past.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Juneteenth weekend was kicked off in the city with the unveiling of "Black Abundance," a mural by 22-year-old artist Frances Chlöe Jones-Whitman.

The work depicts seven of Berkshire County's most notable Black leaders in a Mount Rushmore-style composition with a color scheme of red, yellow, green, and black.

NAACP founding member and Black scholar W.E.B. Dubois; Elizabeth Freeman, who sued for her freedom and began the end slavery in Massachusetts; Civil War chaplain and abolitionist the Rev. Samuel Harrison; Revolutionary War veteran Agrippa Hull; Frances Jones-Sneed, professor emeritus of history at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts; James Van Der Zee, photographer of the Harlem Renaissance; and astronaut Stephanie Wilson are featured in it. Jones-Sneed, who also is co-director of the Upper Housatonic Valley African American Heritage Trail, is the artist's grandmother.

"I decided to think about who are important figures and I thought about the work that I had been doing with my mother and with my grandmother, and my grandmother loves to talk about looking at local history, looking at people in your community, looking at your family's history, your friends' history, the history of your town and how important that is, and how that's something we often lose sight of," Jones-Whitman said.

"A lot of times we think of history and when you think of important figures, you think of things that are distant, whether that be in location or in time, and so I really wanted to look at — and I asked my grandmother for help as a local historian — people in the Berkshires community, people who had made a difference."

She incorporated people past and present to tell community members that they can do amazing things at any time.

"And it doesn't matter what scale you're doing it on or where you are, you can make a difference in your community," Jones-Whitman asserted.

The artist also implored attendees to educate themselves on the history behind the faces in the mural and learn how to do their own work in helping others.

Around 30 people gathered at Persip Park on Friday afternoon for the unveiling.  

The mural is located on the Adlib Inc. building at the corner of Columbus Avenue and North Street. It was facilitated by the Black Lives Matter Art Committee, which is a partnership between Black community members, Artscape, and the city of Pittsfield.

Mayor Linda Tyer pointed out that it is situated on a busy intersection heading toward one of Pittsfield's most historic neighborhoods.

"What an amazing depiction in the medium of graphic arts," she said. "And the portraits are some of Pittsfield and the Berkshire's most famous Black leaders."

Jones-Whitman resides in North Adams with her mother and grandmother. She began doing freelance art and started an at-home sewing business, Sedie's Designs.

This project began two years ago around the time of the committee's inception. The panel has committed to ongoing art projects that empower, solidify and educate the community.

"It's amazing for so many reasons but to have a young African American woman paint this and tell our story from her perspective, it's just powerful," community organizer and Pittsfield Public Schools cultural proficiency coach Shirley Edgerton said.

"And I love what she said about people doing their research and understanding who they are, their contributions to our community and how as young Black people and other young people of color and other marginalized groups watch this, they'll know that you too have something to offer and you too can be great."

She concluded that it is a powerful message without words.

It was also noted the collaboration between Adlib and the committee was natural because of the entities' missions. Adlib provides independent living and specialized services for Berkshire County residents with disabilities and empowers them to live more independently.

Juneteenth weekend will include a full slate of events spanning from Friday to Sunday that started Friday night with the premiere of the "Black Legacy Project" at the Colonial Theatre.  

On Saturday, there is the Rainbow Ruby mural unveiling on College Way at noon followed by a gathering at the Lichtenstein Center for the Arts at 1.

The Juneteenth celebration is on Sunday at Durant Park beginning at noon.

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DA Clears Trooper in Fatal Hancock Shooting

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff

District Attorney Timothy Shugrue says the results of an autopsy by the medical examiner will not change his findings, which are based on the video and witnesses. With him are State Police Lts. Chris Bruno and Ryan Dickinson and First Assistant District Attorney Marianne Shelvey.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — District Attorney Timothy Shugrue has determined that State Police Trooper William Munch acted in compliance during what is being described as a "suicide by cop" earlier this month.
On Sept. 9, 64-year-old Phillip Henault reportedly placed a fictitious 911 call about an ongoing violent assault. Body-camera footage from the trooper shows the man advancing on him with two knives before being shot twice and collapsing in the street in front of his Richmond Road residence.
"Mr. Henault was actively using deadly force against law enforcement. There were no other objectively reasonable means that the trooper could have employed at the time in order to effectively protect himself and anyone that was in the home or the public. By virtue of his duties as a police officer, the trooper did not have the obligation to run away from Mr. Henault," Shugrue said during a press conference on Friday.
"Mr. Henault posed an active threat to the trooper and to the public. The trooper had a duty to arrest Mr. Henault who was engaged in various felonies. His arm was an active threat."
The DA determined that Munch's decision to fire his weapon at Henault under the circumstances was a "lawful and reasonable exercise of self-defense and defense of others" compliance with the policies of the State Police and commonwealth law, clearing the trooper of criminal charges and closing the investigation.
The lethal force was labeled as an "unavoidable last resort."
A preliminary autopsy determined the unofficial cause of death was two gunshot wounds to the torso with contributing factors of wounds to the wrists that were inflicted by Heneault. The final report from the medical examiner has not been issued.
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