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Preservation Group Wants Lynching Murals Kept Uncovered

BOISE, Idaho ― The University of Idaho’s plan to keep two murals inside the old Ada County Courthouse covered for the grand opening of its new campus is being contested by the state’s leading historic preservation group.

The Spokesman-Review reports in a story on Tuesday that Preservation Idaho sent a letter asking the school not to cover the historic murals, which depict White settlers lynching a Native American man, during the new law school’s grand opening in September.

“Idahoans have not destroyed the sites of the Bear River Massacre, the Minidoka Internment Camp, or Massacre Rocks State Park,” wrote the group’s president, Paula Benson. “We deplore what happened at the sites but we acknowledge them so that we may reflect and learn from past mistakes.”

University spokeswoman Stefany Bales agreed that the history is something that shouldn’t be forgotten, but the murals will be covered for the grand opening.

Twenty-six murals were painted in Southern California and mounted in the courthouse in 1940. Two murals show an Indian in buckskin breeches, on his knees with his hands bound behind his back. He is flanked by a man holding a rifle and another armed man holding the end of a noose dangling from a tree.

The University of Idaho is leasing the former courthouse from the state as a satellite campus for its law school.

Bales said with the building’s new purpose, it’s time to re-evaluate the matter, but the murals will still be covered for the September opening.

“It’s not necessarily a building with public foot traffic,” she said. “It’s a very specific group of people using the building. So it seems to us that it’s time to have another conversation about what to do with that mural, whether to leave it visible or not.”

Bob Geddes is the director of the Department of Administration, which is the state agency leasing the building to the school.

“Certainly we can’t destroy those murals,” he said. “There’s value in those murals, and that was established. I can fully understand that some people are offended by those murals, and other people value them as valuable art.”

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