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University of Kentucky to Cover Controversial Campus Mural

LEXINGTON, Ky. ― Nine years after his predecessor rejected calls to remove a controversial Great Depression-era campus mural that featured Black workers toiling in a tobacco field, University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto has decided to cover the painting until a more permanent solution is found.

Capilouto wrote on the school’s website Monday that he met with a group of students recently and understood their frustrations over the mural inside Memorial Hall.

“Ironically, a wall designed to welcome and educate is for so many the embodiment of a social and cultural wound that remains to this day,” Capilouto wrote.

The mural was painted directly into the plaster, making its removal difficult. An explanation of the cover will be placed nearby, Capilouto wrote.

In 2006, senators of the University of Kentucky’s student government passed a resolution to remove the mural, but then-President Lee Todd said he thought the artwork was an important historical and artistic artifact.

“It would be wrong to remove this work of art, just as it would be wrong to stop including in our history classes the terrible ramifications of slavery and the subjugation of Native Americans,” Todd said in a statement at the time.

The fresco depicts scenes from state history and was painted into the wall in 1934 by artist Ann Rice O’Hanlon as part of the Public Works of Art Project. In addition to featuring the scene of in the tobacco field, it also shows Black musicians playing for White dancers, and a Native American with a tomahawk.

“This is but one step in a series we must take as a campus community to be the kind of welcoming and inclusive place we want to be for everyone who calls this University home,” Capilouto wrote.

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