Atlanta murals to honor Dorothy Bolden, who organized domestic workers

Altermiece Thompson-Gates used to wonder just how many Dorothy Boldens there were.

Her mother was everywhere, doing a million things, it seemed, at once.

She fought for protections and fair pay for Black domestic workers. She encouraged people to vote and joined the fight for racial equality. When women who were formerly incarcerated needed work, she helped them find jobs.

And she raised six children.

“I was in awe to see just how she moved. You would think it was more than one Dorothy Bolden,” said Thompson-Gates, a retired Stone Mountain resident. “I’ll never forget, Mom would be busy working these long hours and then you would look up and all of a sudden see her at your classroom door.”

Bolden was the founder of the National Domestic Worker’s Union of America, which was established in the late 1960s and fought for protections and higher pay for the Black women who worked for low wages as the invisible housekeepers, nannies and caregivers in the homes of middle-class and wealthy whites. Bolden, the daughter of a domestic worker, began doing laundry when she was 9, so she knew the struggles.

Now Bolden, who died in 2005, and domestic workers are being celebrated in a series of murals on four buildings close to Vine City, where she lived most of her life. Each mural depicts a different aspect of Bolden’s story. The project is part of the ongoing “Dear Domestic Workers, Thank You!” campaign launched by the “We Dream in Black” organizing project of the Georgia Chapter of the National Domestic Workers Alliance.

NDWA was itself founded in 2007 when more than 50 domestic workers from across the nation met in Atlanta for a national domestic worker gathering, according to the organization.

On Saturday, beginning at 11 a.m., there will be a 5-mile mural tour celebrating Bolden and highlighting domestic and care workers as part of Elevate, a city public arts program. The artists are Ayanna Smith, Fabian Williams, Charity Hamidullah and Vanna Farley.

The tour starts at 1313 Sylvan Road in Atlanta, and members of Bolden’s family and artists will be in attendance.

ExploreBHM: Dorothy Bolden helped Black domestic workers harness political power

After Saturday, the public can take the tour independently. At each mural, there will be QR codes (which can be scanned with smartphones) to access more information about the mural and the significance of the location.

The murals are located at 1313 Sylvan Road; 884 Murphy Ave.; 1545 Ralph David Abernathy Blvd.; and 829 Joseph E. Boone Blvd.

The mural by Williams, for instance, is close to MARTA bus stations. The location on Murphy Avenue is a nod to Bolden’s outreach to domestic workers as they commuted by bus. She would talk to them about their rights and listen as they talked about the racism they faced on the job.

Smith comes from generations of domestic workers who included her grandmother and several great-aunts.

“I wanted the murals to highlight the work of domestic workers and show pride in their work,” she said.

She learned more about Bolden, who she said “was a woman we lift up in the organization. Dorothy Bolden was like a household name for ‘We Dream in Black.’ She was the one who saw something needed to be done and created change.”

In the civil rights movement, women were often present but rarely got the same recognition as their male counterparts. Bolden was close friends with others like Rep. John Lewis and the Rev. Hosea Williams.

“She was a powerhouse,” said Smith. “She was unbossed.”