Art exhibit at Hartsfield-Jackson honors Atlanta Child Murder victims

June 30, 2021 Atlanta - Airport travelers appreciate the exhibition of the Atlanta ChildrenÕs Memorial Portraits at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on Wednesday, June 30, 2021. Hartsfield-Jackson Honors Atlanta Child Murder Victims with Portrait Art Exhibit ATLÕs award-winning art program is hosting the Atlanta ChildrenÕs Memorial Portraits exhibition from June 25 Ð Sept. 8, 2021. Selected from a competition of over 100 regional visual art professionals, artist Dwayne Mitchell was commissioned to create 30 portraits memorializing each victim of the Atlanta Child Murders. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Caption
June 30, 2021 Atlanta - Airport travelers appreciate the exhibition of the Atlanta ChildrenÕs Memorial Portraits at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on Wednesday, June 30, 2021. Hartsfield-Jackson Honors Atlanta Child Murder Victims with Portrait Art Exhibit ATLÕs award-winning art program is hosting the Atlanta ChildrenÕs Memorial Portraits exhibition from June 25 Ð Sept. 8, 2021. Selected from a competition of over 100 regional visual art professionals, artist Dwayne Mitchell was commissioned to create 30 portraits memorializing each victim of the Atlanta Child Murders. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Four decades ago, a series of killings of Black youths, mostly males, shook Atlanta. Now, an exhibit of 30 portraits of the victims of the Atlanta Child Murders has debuted in the domestic terminal atrium of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

The oil paintings, by portrait artist Dwayne Mitchell, will be on display through Sept. 8.

“This is more than a memorial. This is a tribute to the victims and their families and a testament that their lives matter,” said Camille Russell Love, executive director of the Atlanta mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs.

Love said her son was a young boy when bodies started turning up in 1979 and 1980.

ExplorePHOTOS: See the portraits

“I witnessed firsthand how Atlanta’s legacy of missing children impacted a generation of Atlanta’s youth,” Love said. “My son today at 50 is still impacted by this, and so are all his friends.”

In 2019, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced that police and prosecutors would reexamine evidence in the case, established an advisory committee called Atlanta Children’s Memorial Taskforce and solicited an artist for an exhibit.

“Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms always believed that there was more that we could do to honor the victims and their families,” Love said.

This portrait of Aaron Wyche is one of 30 included in the Atlanta Children's Memorial Project. Artist Dwayne Mitchell was commissioned to create portraits, one for each victim of the Atlanta Child Murders. The portraits are now on display at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Aaron Wyche, age 10, disappeared on June 23, 1980. (Mayor's Office of Cultural Affairs)
Caption
This portrait of Aaron Wyche is one of 30 included in the Atlanta Children's Memorial Project. Artist Dwayne Mitchell was commissioned to create portraits, one for each victim of the Atlanta Child Murders. The portraits are now on display at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Aaron Wyche, age 10, disappeared on June 23, 1980. (Mayor's Office of Cultural Affairs)

Credit: Mayor's Office of Cultural Affairs

Credit: Mayor's Office of Cultural Affairs

The mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs pledged to pay $18,000 to the winning artist.

In January 2020, a curated gallery exhibition with art from more than 100 submissions opened in the Mayor’s Gallery at City Hall, and Mitchell was introduced as the winning artist.

ExploreWayne Williams: Atlanta Child Murders

Plans at the time were to display Mitchell’s work over that summer, but the exhibit was delayed due to the pandemic.

Bottoms said in a written statement that the exhibit “will honor these kids and be of great comfort to many of the families and residents of Atlanta.”

Artist Dwayne Mitchell speaks during an event to announce the exhibition of the Atlanta Children's Memorial Portraits at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on Wednesday, June 30, 2021. Artist Dwayne Mitchell was commissioned to create 30 portraits memorializing each victim of the Atlanta Child Murders. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Caption
Artist Dwayne Mitchell speaks during an event to announce the exhibition of the Atlanta Children's Memorial Portraits at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on Wednesday, June 30, 2021. Artist Dwayne Mitchell was commissioned to create 30 portraits memorializing each victim of the Atlanta Child Murders. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Now 59, Mitchell also lived in Atlanta during the killing spree. He said his portraits’ colorful cloudy backgrounds are intended to show each victim in heaven. “In painting these 30 children, one can only imagine the deep loss and sadness of the parents and families that have gone through this, and to not have all the answers surrounding this horrible event is unthinkable,” he said in an artist statement.

Wayne Williams was sentenced to life in prison for two of the killings, both adults. Investigators suspected him of all of the killings, but Williams has said he is innocent. Many of the families want further investigation into who killed their children.

ExploreWayne Williams’ 1981 arrest allayed crime fears, ended Atlanta Child Murders

Airport manager Balram Bheodari said the exhibit “gives it the visibility it deserves to the millions of passengers who will come through here,” adding that it “shines a light on one of the most sobering chapters of our city’s history.”

“We are honored to be the temporary home for perhaps the most consequential exhibit we have ever had at this airport,” Bheodari said.

Also planned is an eternal flame memorial to be installed on Atlanta City Hall grounds and inscribed with the names of the victims of the Atlanta Child Murders.

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