Members of the Jefferson County Commission say they’ll address a petition by the local NAACP chapter and other groups calling for the removal of two murals in the courthouse. This latest push comes in the wake of the killings of nine African Americans at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, that sparked a debate over symbols of the Confederacy throughout the South.
More than 60 people packed a county commission hearing Thursday afternoon as people urged county leaders to remove the two towering murals by the courthouse entrance. Painted in the 1930s, one shows a tall white woman in white dress standing above slaves in a cotton field. The other shows a large white man standing above the workers in an iron plant.
Valerie Hicks Powe says she would come to the courthouse with her mother as a little girl and ask why the white people were so big and the black people so small.
“[You] can’t change history, but it is time to change the image being in the courthouse,” said Hicks Powe. “I don’t think it should be destroyed, but I think it should be somewhere where people can look at it and discuss it as we are.” Hicks Powe recommends putting the murals in a museum.
Former Birmingham resident Anne Garland Mahler started a petition to remove the murals. She explained the symbols still have weight.
“In a courthouse where people are seeking justice and equality, there are images right when you walk in that communicate the very opposite,” Mahler told the commissioners.
The Jefferson County Historical Commission has said the murals should stay since they represent part of the region’s history.
Three of the five commissioners support removing the murals.
The commission said they would address the situation within two weeks.