Here Are the Worst People You Could Choose for the New Ben’s Chili Bowl Mural

But we have alternatives.

Photograph by Rosa Cartagena.

Last week, Ben’s Chili Bowl took down its mural–which included former President Barack ObamaDonnie SimpsonChuck Brown, and alleged sexual predator Bill Cosby–to make room for a new one. The restaurant asking its fans to vote on who should be featured next. The survey prompts voters to choose six of their preferred nominees from a list of 59 civil-rights leaders, athletes, and entertainers while also offering a write-in option. But there are some folks on the list who definitely don’t deserve your vote.

Bill Cosby 

Yes, he is eligible for the new mural. But the same conditions that led to his anchoring the old mural becoming a point of controversy still exist.

Joe Mantegna

No disrespect to the voice of Fat Tony, but his sole affiliation with Ben’s Chili Bowl seems to be a visit last June to the restaurant’s Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport location.

Rachael Ray

It’s unclear whether Ray has ever been to Ben’s, but she has mentioned the restaurant in her magazine as a “Best Place to Eat” in DC. That’s a nice plug, but it’s also the bare minimum for a celebrity chef. (Not that we’d put Anthony Bourdain on the wall either.)

Terrence Howard

The actor enjoys enduring popularity thanks to his role as Lucius Lyon on Empire, but he’s also faced his own allegations of domestic abuse. After Cosby, Howard would be a bad look.

Jimmy Fallon

Honestly, why? Because he did some push-ups on the sidewalk in front of Ben’s more than three years ago as a promo for Late Night? Hard pass.

Kevin Durant

Come on. He called Wizards fans who thought there was still hope of luring the forward to his hometown team “disrespectful” for cheering him when he played for the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Look, we don’t want to seem like just a couple of haters here. When the old mural got painted over Ben’s Chili Bowl owner Nizam Ali said the goal of the next mural would be to spread a “good message of peace and unity.” Even though there may only be room for six in the end, here are 12 candidates for whom you should definitely consider voting.

Alice Walker

The poet, activist, and Color Purple author’s entire life and career speaks to what Ali is trying to get at with this mural.

Angela Davis

The former Communist Party leader has been fighting injustices for more than half a century. Sticking her on the wall outside Ben’s Chili Bowl would give passersby a daily reminder of that, especially at a time when DC is actively resisting the federal government.

Dave Chapelle

With his post-election Saturday Night Live hosting gig, the Dave Chappelle career resurgence went full-blast. Considering his comedy has never felt more timely, he deserves a spot on the wall.

Duke Ellington

Between a sculpture outside the Howard Theatre and a high-school named in his honor, Ellington is already well-represented around DC. Still, if Ben’s wants its mural to reach across generations, it could do far worse.

George Clinton

Meanwhile, there aren’t enough built tributes to the Prime Minister of Funk and composer of “Chocolate City.” This would be a start.

John Lewis

Those of us who don’t live in White House are plenty familiar with Lewis’s lifetime of getting into what he calls “good trouble.” If the metric for inclusion on the Ben’s Chili Bowl mural is significance to DC, you can also thank Lewis for finishing the century-long campaign to open the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Marion Barry Jr.

DC will probably never run out of ways to pay tribute to its Mayor-for-Life. The Ben’s mural is as appropriate a place as any.

Marvin Gaye

The R&B legend has a park and Southeast DC street named after him, but tributes to him on U Street could be a bit stronger than a clubby bar and restaurant.

Maya Angelou

As then-First Lady (and current mural hopeful) Michelle Obama said in 2014 at the poet and activist’s funeral, Angelou was “one of the greatest spirits our world has ever known.” Perhaps nobody on the broader list of 59 nominees embodies the goal of “peace and unity” better.

Michelle Obama

Although her husband was on the list again, the former First Lady is more deserving here. As a former President, Barack Obama will get plenty of schools, airports, and statues built in his honor. Michelle deserves just as many visible accolades.


It is unclear what, if any, connections Prince Rogers Nelson had to Ben’s Chili Bowl during his life. Still, one can never have enough tributes to Prince.

Taraji P. Henson

While we have misgivings about her Empire costar, the DC native and Howard University graduate is a great choice if Ben’s is keen on including entertainers on its next mural.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.

Rosa is a senior editor at Bitch Magazine. She’s written for Washingtonian and Smithsonian magazine.