Posted on December 4, 2015

U. Of Kentucky Shrouds a 1934 Mural That Depicts African American Slaves

James Higdon and Nick Anderson, Washington Post, December 1, 2015

The University of Kentucky has draped white sheets over a prominent indoor mural here that features images of African American slaves hunched in a field, black musicians playing for white dancers and a Native American wielding a tomahawk near a white settler.

University President Eli Capilouto said the fresco at Memorial Hall was shrouded last week to give the community time to debate what to do about it, in light of persistent complaints from students and others that the artwork presents an offensive and romanticized view of slavery and other aspects of the state’s racial history.

Kentucky alumna Ann Rice O’Hanlon painted the mural in 1934 on plaster laid by her husband, Dick O’Hanlon. Four slaves in what appears to be a tobacco field are central to the composition of the piece, with a scene of a passenger railway placed above them. Other images from the state’s history are arrayed in a work that is 38 feet wide and 11 feet tall.

The mural “sanitizes history, painting over the stark reality of unimaginable brutality, pain, and suffering represented by the enslavement of our fellow women and men,” Capilouto said in a message to the university community. “We can no longer allow that to stand alone, unanswered by and unaccountable to, the evolutionary trajectory of our human understanding and our human spirit.”