America, you know I love you deeply—why else would I give up the free healthcare and reliable public transportation of Britain to come here?—but I gotta ask: What’s with all the racist murals?
I found this mural, for example, in the Mural Room of the Santa Barbara, CA, courthouse, an otherwise delightful place to visit with wonderful views of the city. (You can also get married there.) The mural room was completed by Daniel Sayre Groesbeck in 1929 and was restored after smoke damage in 2010. This particular mural reads: “The Canaliño Tribe bordering the Santa Barbara Channel were the most Enlightened of the California Indians.”
Wonderful! Just a fun mural predicated on the notion of ranking the native peoples of the Americas by 17th century European notions of enlightenment, and an all-round delightful thing to have on the wall of the room in which you wed your beloved.
But this is far from the only problematic mural adorning the walls of public buildings around the country. In 2015, the University of Idaho finally covered a mural in which “a bound Native American man kneels beneath a tree whose branch bears a noose.” A Baker County, FL, courthouse mural depicted three KKK members, and was explained by the artist in a guidebook:
Lawlessness among ex-slaves and troublesome whites was the rule of the day. No relief was given by the carpetbag and scalawag government or by the Union troops. The result was the emergence of secret societies claiming to bring law and order to the county. One of these groups was the Ku Klux Klan, an organization that sometimes took vigilante justice to extremes but was sometimes the only control the county knew over those outside the law. The Klan faded from view at the end of Reconstruction. It had minor come-backs in the 1920’s and mid 1950’s. Since then it has become the subject of legend rather than a cause of fear.
Another mural in New Hampshire depicted a Native American man about to set fire to a settler’s house.
Racist murals on government buildings are so widespread that the problem was parodied in NBC’s Parks and Recreation, where the murals adorning Pawnee’s city hall include a Native American chief being put on trial for “Being Indian” and a bloodbath following a white woman’s marriage to a Native American.
So, we’re wondering: Just how many of these are there? Take a fun, educational trip to your local city hall or courthouse this weekend and have a look around; it might provide a great opportunity to start explaining America’s horrible racist past to your kids. Post your photos of your Local Racist Murals in the comments below, or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.