As the dialogue about racial injustice continues across the nation, the University of Kentucky is taking additional steps to make sure it’s on the right side of history.
In an email to students, faculty, and staff today, UK President Eli Capilouto announced that the university is removing a controversial mural in Memorial Hall that depicts slaves. The mural, done in 1934 by Ann Rice O’Hanlon, is one of the few true frescoes left in the United States and has been covered and uncovered over the years as administrators and student groups have clashed over its place in history and what it represents. In light of recent events, Capilouto said the time has come to take it down.
“It’s against that imperfect and human backdrop that I am directing our facilities team to immediately begin the process of removing the mural in Memorial Hall.
Why now? And what does this move accomplish?
Just as certain images haunt me, I also cannot escape certain conversations that, over years, remain fresh.
To many, the mural represents the work of a renowned artist, seeking in her time, to represent the evolution, however halting, of her native state. And as with all art, we seek to understand the intent of the artist and bring our own meaning and interpretation to it.
I remember a conversation at Maxwell Place with 24 African American students in the fall of 2015. There, they detailed a list of recommendations that included “racist mural in Memorial Hall.” There was a conversation with one student about the mural who stopped me cold with the observation that every time he walked into a class in Memorial Hall, he was forced to reckon with the fact that his forbears were enslaved.
They were chattel; brutalized as disposable property, even though in their time, they were regarded as essential to the economy’s progress.
The art, to this student, sought to glorify and sanitize that fact. And he was speaking for many others, over many years, a point made clear again to me recently as we began conversations with our student leaders on how to move forward during this fraught time. The mural once again was a symbol, not of a state’s evolution, but of our unwillingness to recognize their experiences as members of our community.”
You can read Capilouto’s entire email at the link below.