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The First Black Mayor Of Saginaw To Be Honored With A 1,050-Square-Foot Mural

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The late Henry G. Marsh will be honored for his contributions as the first Black mayor of Saginaw, MI, with a 1,050-square-foot mural.

Though he passed away in Saginaw in 2011, almost 50 years after he was first elected as mayor in 1967, Marsh’s legacy as a World War II veteran and civil rights advocate will endure in the form of a painting. Local Frankenmuth artist Stephen Hargash has been tasked with creating the mural in Marsh’s likeness. The artwork will be located in what is now known as Henry Marsh Plaza. 

“He was a key figure in Saginaw, and to get the opportunity to honor him makes me feel good,” Hargash told M Live. Though Hargash never met Marsh, the artist interviewed several people to better understand the late politician’s character.

“I had to really delve into who he was and talk to people and read research to kind of formulate a picture of how I wanted to represent him,” he said. 

Descended from an enslaved grandfather, Marsh was born poor in Knoxville, TN. After being honorably discharged following a three-year service in the U.S. Army, Marsh graduated from Knoxville College. He later attended the University of Michigan’s law school until transferring to Wayne State University Law School to be near his wife, Ruth Eleanor Clayton. The couple had three children – Thomas, Walter, and Terésa. 

The former mayor broke boundaries throughout his term in Saginaw. Marsh was in office during the tumultuous 1960s, which saw a rise in racially motivated attacks and political unrest, so much so that he armed himself with a rifle after several threats of violence were made against him and his family. In 1961, the trailblazing politician was elected to the city council. In 1967, in response to escalating violence in the South, Marsh established a 200-member coalition. Ministers, business owners, activists, and people from all walks of life joined together to form the Committee of Civil Rights, a group Marsh considered one of his most outstanding achievements. He was elected to the mayor’s seat that same year and served as the city’s leader until 1969. 

This mural aims to capture Marsh in all his glory. Beyond his role as a passionate mayor, he was also a devoted family man and was defined by more than just where he came from.

In a 2009 interview with M Live, Marsh spoke about becoming one of the first Black leaders in Saginaw.

I think I was a trailblazer, and I say it without vanity. I was nationally known. Not quite like the gentleman down in Washington, but I was pretty well publicized during that period of time,” he said. Despite the fact that my whole background was black and Southern, I had self-assurance and confidence that enabled me to take a position and say things that others would not. As essentially the only black lawyer in Saginaw, I felt I was the spokesman for the black community.”

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