Remove the painting in the Baker County Courthouse depicting the Ku Klux Klan and other divisive imagery
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A mural in the Baker County, Florida Courthouse shows horse-backed, hooded members of the Ku Klux Klan as a part of the "Baker County historical perspective.” It stands larger than life as the first thing you see in the county's halls of justice. It even has its own “sign in” book, which includes supportive statements for the KKK. We want it removed.
There are depictions of blacks as naked and aboriginal with spears (imagery that never existed in Baker County), as well as demeaning stereotyped images of the Native American. Most notoriously, there is the scene of the three hooded Klansmen on horseback. Even the artist’s own description of the scene shows his denial of the true horror inflicted by the KKK:
"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.”
Legend? No. Horror? Yes.
This mural is not a historic relic -- it was only painted in 2001. It only stands to fuel an "us" versus "them" story of whites versus non-whites in Baker County. A story locals say still exists. It's time to remove it.
Baker County has a history of violence against blacks. On October 5, 1920, four black men were jailed as possible witnesses or suspects in the death of a prominent young white farmer named John Harvey. Instead of lawfulness and justice, the Klan and what was described as 50 white men overtook the jail and seized the men from their cells, dragging their bodies across the county, then shooting and lynching them. And then there is the story of J.E. Fraser, a reported Grand Wizard from Baker County, who threatened that if a "fellow sells his house to a n-----," they will spread the word and that "boy better just get out of the state."
The “Baxter Rebellion” is also heavily featured. According to the artist himself, it started in blacks boarded a train headed back home to Baker County. The whites "fingered their long bladed knives hoping for an opportunity to use them” resenting the blacks traveling by train. A black traveler was eventually taunted and a white man, "slashed his throat, almost decapitating him.” Then, "The violence mounted, becoming an orgy of blood as by-stander blacks and some members of the Macon team were indiscrimately (sic) slashed.” The violence didn’t stop on the train and the county erupted in violence with those who helped blacks on one side and those who didn't on the other. Even the Deputy was killed by the white mob while trying to restore the rule of law, and “there was not an unbroken bone in his body when it was dragged from beneath the building.” When it came time for the trial of the men responsible, the (pro-white) Altman-Dowling-Harvey clans, "surround(ed) the courthouse on the day of the trial. All were armed." No jury would convict out of fear.
This mural helps keep that mentality alive, which is entirely inappropriate in a courthouse. It is a hallmark of the past that contains many emotionally damaging, harmful and insulting images. Here are a few other parts of the mural:
- A young black child amongst Union soldiers next to injured Confederate whites, depicting the “us” versus “them";
- The Confederate Battle Flag waves opposite the American flag as soldiers fight;
- A prominent woodpecker next to the KKK which was notoriously adopted by white supremacist groups;
- The Camellia flower, which is the official flower of the Klan;
- The Story of the Baxter Rebellion, which entails the gory slaughter of black men on a train, resulting lawlessness and an inability to get a conviction of the murderers because of intimidation by whites including armed family members standing on the courthouse lawn during trial;
- Many burned and burning houses;
- A man making alcohol from a still;
- and more either illegal or separatist images.
This one-sided, insensitive history and lawlessness should not be condoned or memorialized in the very halls of justice which are supposed to hold all men equally accountable. The great people of Baker County are not honored by this mural. They are not lawless. And even their own judges and citizens have asked for this painting to be removed in the past. It is time.
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