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Campus groups are going after historically racist symbols on school grounds

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A panel depicting the Klu Klux Klan burning a cross painted by Thomas Hart Benton has become "non-politically correct" to students at Indiana University in Bloomington. It is the latest in what some have called the “removal campaign.”

Although dominating headlines have focused on the momentum of a student-led petition to remove the panel in a lecture hall, the school has refused to remove it. This would not be a first for the university, as the panel, titled “Parks, the Circus, the Klan, the Press," has previously sparked student controversy and debate.

Confederate Monuments Battle
"Removal Campaign"

The petition, which began in mid-August of this year and now has about 1,600 signatures, states that back in 2005 a university-concluded decision allowed the KKK mural to remain. It found that the university had doled out reasons for keeping the mural “so that it would remind students of the history of Indiana and celebrate the downfall of the KKK in Indiana,” in a state where the KKK had formidable political influence. It also argued that the “mural in Woodburn Hall violates the university's diversity statement.”

IU’s vice president for diversity, equity, and multicultural affairs, James Wimbush responded to this point, emphasizing the need to remember the state’s ugly past, “which we do not want to see again, ever.” In an interview with USA Today, he explained that the image “does not glorify or celebrate this particular dark episode of the KKK in Indiana.”

KKK rally
KKK protests, Charlottesville, VA

Other university officials, however, spoke about recognizing students who “may feel uncomfortable by the depiction in the murals and that this might affect their ability to study and focus." Ryan Piurek, the university’s assistant vice president for public affairs and presidential communications, continued". In the wake of the recent ugly and tragic events in Charlottesville, Va., students may be experiencing feelings of anger, upset, hurt, anxiety, discrimination and even fear.

“IU also stands in solidarity with citizens and groups across our nation who oppose a supremacist ideology of bigotry, hatred, violence, intimidation and assault on our liberties."

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The image in question makes up one of the 22 panels in Benton’s “A Social History of Indiana,” also popularly known as the “Indiana Murals,” which was commissioned in 1932.

The painting, much like the national debate surrounding Confederate monuments and iconography, will have to be much discussed, especially in an academic setting with a black student population of about 4.5%.

And like the painting in Indiana, a bronze plaque in the middle of historic Fredericksburg, at the corner of Charles and William streets, has come under fire. Circa Campus uncovered that the block on which the plaque now remains was once heavily profiled in local newspapers in 1854:

“Fredericksburg seems to be the best place to sell slaves in the State. On Tuesday, at Charter’s [Planter’s] Hotel, forty-three slaves were sold for $26,000. One bricklayer brought $1,495. One woman and child, 5 or 6 years old, brought $1,350. Several were quite old servants. It was a considered a tremendous sale.”

The plaque reads: “AUCTION BLOCK, Fredericksburg’s Principal Auction Site in Pre-Civil War Days for Slaves and Property.” And it stood to be removed in an online petition, which argued that the plaque shouldn’t be a way for the city to generate revenue through tourism. Many found that keeping it would be racist, while others don’t.

Auction Block
Slavery Auction Block in Fredericksburg, VA

The city council voted to keep the block in its current position back on September 26, 2017. Out of 602 votes, 60% voted to keep the block where it is, 21% voted to move it possibly to the Fredericksburg Area Museum, and 19% voted of neither of those two options. Although an actual decision remains to be had, the block will remain in its current position.

The country remains divided on this very issue that is political polarizing.

Alumna Jacqueline Barrie’s petition acknowledges Thomas Hart Benton’s critical take on history, however more importantly points out that the painting remains a modern depiction, “not just depictions of a historical time in Indiana.”

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