A man who grew up in Columbus, Mississippi is protesting the mural hanging in the local post office.
It was 1939. Beulah Bettersworth of New York was in Columbus, taking in the scenery, for inspiration for her next work of art.
The artist had been commissioned by the federal government’s Section of Fine Arts to paint a mural to be installed at the downtown Columbus post office. Like its better known cousin, the Works Progress Administration, the Section of Fine Arts was part of the Depression-era effort to get the country back to work during the financial crisis of the 1930s.
After reviewing four submissions for the Columbus mural, the agency chose a scene with black field hands picking cotton. In the foreground, a white man is guiding a mule-powered plow. In the background are a church, cotton gin and lumber mill.
Many people have passed in and out of the post office for years without even noticing the mural. But it has the full attention of Ira Lanier, a native of Columbus who now lives in Colorado. Lanier has launched a one-man campaign to remove the historic mural, denouncing it as racist.
Lanier has written to the postmaster general in Washington, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, The Dispatch, a consumer advocate in Washington, the Southern Poverty Law Center and Columbus City Councilman Gene Taylor in an effort to remove the work.
On a trip to Columbus last July, Lanier said his heart ached because of the painting’s “statement” of “bigotry and exploitation.”
“In my wildest dreams, I can not envision that the sentiment and approval of blacks were considered, despite the overwhelming presence of blacks in the majority of these murals distributed throughout the South,” the letter reads.
Other than a “generic” letter of acknowledgment from the U.S. Post Office in Washington, Lanier said he hasn’t gotten a response from his letters
When a similar protest was launched in 2005 for the mural “Cotton Pickers” hanging in the Linden, Texas post office, USPS said:
The US post office’s public relations office tells News 12 that while they hear the protestors concerns, they don’t feel the mural is offensive. They tell News 12 that when they comissioned the artist, the mural was supposed to depict regular people from the area. And not everyone feels the mural has a derogatory affect.