Posted on April 3, 2019

UK President Agrees to Shroud ‘Racist’ Mural After Students Protest

Morgan Watkins, Louisville Courier Journal, April 2, 2019

University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto announced Tuesday evening that UK would shroud a highly criticized mural after meeting with students who had occupied the school’s Main Building overnight to call for his administration to meet their demands concerning the mural and other issues black and low-income students face on campus.

The Black Student Advisory Council — one of the groups that led the occupation of the Main Building, which ended Tuesday evening after Capilouto made commitments to address their concerns — requested that the university remove a mural in Memorial Hall that was painted by UK graduate Ann Rice O’Hanlon and features controversial depictions of people of color.

Capilouto said the university will immediately cover the mural “and re-engage with a new committee to determine a long-term plan.


The mural has been criticized for failing to fully represent the experiences of slaves, as well as Native Americans, and the horrific treatment they suffered in America, Stuart Horodner, director of the UK Art Museum, told the Courier Journal last year.

He noted that O’Hanlon’s mural, which includes images of a Native American clutching a tomahawk and black people working in a field, shows a “collapsed history” of Kentucky that stretches from the state’s origins to the 1930s.


Capilouto met for more than two hours with students from the Black Student Advisory Council and the student-led Basic Needs Campaign, which had led a hunger strike to advocate for more resources to addressing food and housing insecurity among the student body, before later announcing his decision to shroud the mural and make several other changes at UK.


The student said O’Hanlon’s work depicts “a black body being sold” and told Capilouto the painting is a “celebration of that slavery, and it’s not something that the University of Kentucky’s black students are willing to put up with anymore.”


However, he said O’Hanlon’s work — a fresco that was painted in the 1930s for the Public Works of Art Project, which was part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal — can’t physically be moved because it’s literally part of the wall it’s on, or else he would do so immediately.

And Capilouto indicated the idea of obliterating the mural is tough for him to consider.


Despite Capilouto’s explanation for his reticence to get rid of the mural, students protesting on campus Tuesday were steadfast in their demand that it must go.

Several of them noted that their problem with the mural isn’t isolated from their broader concerns about how they and their peers are treated on campus.


Tsage Douglas, chair of the Black Student Advisory Council at UK, told the Courier Journal on Tuesday afternoon that “the only solution is to tear that mural down.”

“We don’t care about structural integrity. We don’t care about preserving the art,” she said. “It needs to come down. It needs to stop being celebrated immediately.”


One of those commitments was his decision to cover the mural, although what ultimately will happen with the controversial artwork remains to be seen as the university as moves forward with its new plan to form a committee to examine the issue.

Other commitments Capilouto made Tuesday evening include:

  • Standardizing the role of diversity and inclusion officers at the university;
  • Providing a permanent seat for black students on search committees for administrative officials at UK; {snip}.