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Celebrating History Through Art

Decatur Civil Rights Museum, Part 1

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“Art and music are the main things that bring people together. To me, that’s the important thing that we need to achieve.”

Frances Tate, Artist and Founder of Celebrating Early Old Town with Art (CEOTA)

Frances Tate’s Decatur home is filled with stacks and stacks of beautiful drawings and paintings, each one a celebration of the city’s rich past. She wasn’t always an artist, but a deep sense of history and a desire for representation led her to pick up a paintbrush. Her realization that she hadn’t seen a single photo of a Black church representing the early Old Town of Decatur was the spark that ignited her artistic journey.

Why not just take a picture?

Federal subsidization and the 1970s Urban Renewal Redevelopment program left the predominantly Black community and minority-owned business district of early Old Town Decatur barren. Buildings deteriorated and were destroyed, taking the history of the area with them.

CEOTA is Born

Frances made it her mission to tell the stories of every person, church, and business that existed in the early Old Town so that they would not be forgotten. She was going to do that through art.

“We did not have an art class when I went to school,” explains Frances. “I just decided after I retired that I was going to learn how to paint and draw.”

When news of her mission broke, people started sending her old family photos of the area. Frances painted every church and building she caught sight of. She had so many paintings, she decided to hold an art show at the Princess Theatre.

“Over 500 people came to that show,” Frances said. “That’s when I knew that people really cared about what I was doing.”

Frances founded Celebrating Early Old Town with Art, or CEOTA, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the stories and structures of early Old Town. The organization seeks to educate, inform, promote, and share the rich history of the Old Town community.

Scottsboro Boys Civil Rights Museum

You might see some prints of Frances’ paintings around town, but she will not sell a single original piece. Those will hang in the Scottsboro Boys Civil Rights Museum, a multi-million-dollar CEOTA project currently underway.

Click here to learn more about the Scottsboro Boys Civil Rights Museum in Part 2 of our Decatur Civil Rights Museum story.

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