In 1934, under the auspices of the New Deal’s Public Works of Art program, artist Ann Rice O’Hanlon painted a fresco (the largest ever painted by a woman up to that time) in the University of Kentucky’s Memorial Hall. It has become famous and is much admired by art historians, and thousands of Kentucky students have walked past it through the decades. The large, six section artwork depicts many events, industries, traditions and activities that were significant to the state, invented in Kentucky or by Kentuckians, as well as historical events. Among the scenes shown are black slaves picking tobacco and black musicians serenading whites.
Ann Rice O’Hanlon’s masterpiece became the target of choice at Kentucky as the University ‘s black students were seeking to emulate the power plays by their equivalents at the University of Missouri, Yale, Amherst, Harvard Law, Dartmouth and other institutions. The Kentucky students held a meeting with president Eli Capilouto and argued that the fresco was offensive, as it relegated black people to roles as slaves or servants, and did not portray the cruelty of slavery and the later Jim Crow culture that existed in the state. Capilouto capitulated, agreeing to move the work to “a more appropriate location.” In the meantime, Kentucky will cover up the 45-by-8-foot fresco while adding a sign explaining why the mural is obscured.
Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day is this: