Anger at Texas Southern Over Painted-Over Murals

September 13, 2010

Students and artists at Texas Southern University are angry that President John Rudley had workers paint over two murals in the administration building, The Houston Chronicle reported. The murals were a senior project of Harvey Johnson, who went on to teach at the university for 34 years until he retired in 2007, and are part of a tradition in which art students were encouraged to paint murals. A university spokeswoman initially said that painters covered the murals by mistake, but Rudley acknowledged that it was his choice, telling the newspaper that "when I bring dignitaries to campus, I can't have them seeing that kind of thing. All art isn't good art." The murals were painted in 1971 and reflected the Black Power movement of the time, including nonstandard English, as in the title of the work Dere's a "Han Writing on de Wall." An editorial in the newspaper denounced the decision to paint over the murals, saying: "[P]reparing for the wider world shouldn't require erasing one's African-American identity. And African-American art and history have something to say to all Americans, not just black ones. Of all places, it seems to us, a historically black university ought to celebrate the complexities of that culture. By erasing Johnson's mural, TSU erased an important part of its own heritage - and its students' heritage, and its city's. Maybe the paintings made the president and the dignitaries who visited him uncomfortable. But art, like education, isn't about making people comfortable. Sometimes we all need to read the handwriting on the wall."

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