Favorite Travel Quotes

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts."
-- Mark Twain
Innocents Abroad

"Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey." -- Fitzhugh Mullan

"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving." -- Lao Tzu

Artist Elizabeth Scism and the Legacy of Virgil Ware

©Bert Gildart: Experience shapes personality, and for me a particularly profound event occurred in 1967 when two girls were fatally mauled in a single night.  Because of my involvement in one of those tragedies, my thinking about certain aspects of park management was forever changed. It was something I was able to express in a magazine story written for Smithsonian Magazine.

Two other events have also impacted my thinking. One occurred just off the Natchez Trace in Oxford, Mississippi, and that was a trip I made to Ol’ Miss at the time when James Meredith, a black person, was seeking admission. His quest prompted riots and generated a form of hatred I had never experienced before.


There’s yet another experience, and that occurred on a lonely road just outside of Birmingham, Alabama. This event was particularly tragic, as it resulted in the death of a young black boy, Virgil Ware. Aside from his brother, I was the last person to see Virgil alive–and was there as he died. He’d been shot by two white boys filled with hate that so permeated the Birmingham area that violent day. Like the other two events, the tragedy became the subject of a blog, but unlike the other two postings, this story elicited response from an artist.


Virgil Ware and the four little girls surrounding him died a tragic death in a single day in September of 1963. Artist/teacher Elizabeth Scism has preserved their memories in this haunting rendition.

Elizabeth Scism is an up-and-coming artist from Tennessee who teaches creative writing and American Literature. In her spare time she devotes time to the artistic rendition of people from the Civil Rights era. One of those is Virgil Ware.

Just why a relatively young artist has chosen to focus on men and woman from the Civil Rights period is something that may be more thoroughly revealed as time goes by. Regardless, Elizabeth has provided an insightful rendition of this young boy, killed when he was but 14.


Looking at her rendition, we see a young man with a strong face–one that appears to have been full of promise. Originally, Elizabeth told me that she had considered back-dropping him with a bicycle, for he had been riding on the handlebars as his brother peddled. But she changed her vision to one that included the four young girls killed that very same day. The girls had been in a church when the building was bombed, and to my way of thinking, her choice was a good one, for they all died from the same hostilities that characterized those times.

Elizabeth says that after searching the internet for hours she finally found a high-quality photo-collage of the four girls and that she decided to use that rather than the bike. She says she thought the bike might look bizarre–and that she “was more confident drawing faces anyway.” She goes on to say that one of her students gave her Photoshop and that she used the program to help her figure out what she wanted the final work to look like on the computer before she actually started drawing.

“Your question,” writes Scism, “about why I do this is that I am fascinated by faces… My heart also happens to go out to many of the people I’ve drawn, Virgil among them. He looks so vulnerable, like a little rabbit.”

Elizabeth says she hopes one day to have a showing of those impacted by the Civil Rights movement, and Janie and I wish her well. We think her subjects are poignant and are flattered she’d share one of her images with us. We think she’s onto a subject that matters still. For more on her work, go to Deviantart.



*Denali National Park



One Response to “Artist Elizabeth Scism and the Legacy of Virgil Ware”

  1. Larry Says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this. The drawing makes a powerful statement about how tragically hate effects the lives of victims of discrimination of any kind.

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