Debated Memorial Hall mural uncovered


Mural inside Memorial Hall will soon be covered up. Tuesday, November 24, 2015 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Joel Repoley | Staff 

Matt Smith

Following nearly a year of debate, the controversial mural depicting slaves in the foyer of Memorial Hall will be uncovered, according to an announcement by President Eli Capilouto.

However, there will be some strings attached to the uncovering of the now-prominent piece of art. In addition to the existing mural, more content will be added to Memorial Hall that provides “a larger narrative of our history, our aspirations, our shortcomings and the progress we must still make,” said Capilouto in his blog posting last Thursday.

Created in 1934 by Ann Rice O’Hanlon, a UK student at the time, the mural depicts African-American slaves working with crops in a field, among other images. Following calls for the mural’s ouster last fall, the university instead decided to temporarily cover up the visual, delaying a final decision on the controversy.

Kahlil Baker, director of UK’s Martin Luther King Center, downplayed the significance of the issue, while also stressing the importance of more context.

“Most important to recognize, as Dr. Capilouto points out, is that the mural was not among the more significant issues that were raised by students,” Baker said. “Wherever any of us stand on the mural, it is important to have context and dialogue to dig into these perspectives and the others that exist.”

The committee’s final decision seems to be a compromise that was designed to appease both sides, as many thought that the history of slavery in America should remain on full display. Those of this opinion got their wish, as did those who believed that more history and context was necessary.

Related: UK to uncover Memorial Hall mural

Frank X. Walker, Kentucky’s first African-American Poet Laurete and an English professor at UK, was pleased with the university’s action on the matter. Walker was one of the more than 100 faculty members to send a letter to Capilouto last year, advocating for a more racially inclusive climate and diverse university.

“I’m pleased that it’s moving forward,” Walker said, describing the decision. “ As an artist, an activist and an educator, it’s important that the whole story be told. Now we need to put as much energy into the other challenges students raised regarding surviving at UK.”

According to Walker, when he was a student at UK in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the mural was still stoking controversy. He credits the current leadership for moving the ball forward in a way that past university leaders were not able to do.

“We have an administration that is actually willing to find a solution, unlike in past years,” Walker said. 

Rowan Reid, president of the Student Government Association, told the Kernel that the process of collecting information and opinions on the matter has just begun.

“We are working diligently to collect various student opinions to help us make an informed decision on the subject,” Reid said.

Reid said a resolution will be written on the decision in the Academic and Student Affairs committee on Sept. 14, with the full senate voting on the resolution on Sept. 21.