A new mural was unveiled at the Jefferson County courthouse today. It came in response to a public outcry over others murals there, which depicted slaves picking cotton and others laboring shirtless in the mills.
The new mural is called “Justice is Blind.” It hangs on a huge panel two stories tall in the cavernous lobby. It’s between two other murals — one of antebellum Jefferson County and another of the industrial South.
The older murals were painted in the early 1930s when everything, including the courthouse, was segregated.
Many found the murals offensive. In 2015, people called for them to be removed. Jefferson County Commissioner Sandra Little Brown was one of them. She says the new mural reflects a more inclusive county.
“This county is not owned by just white people. It’s not owned by just black people. It’s black, white, Hispanic, different nationalities,” she says. “So, this is good for us to be able to come together and unify and include all of us together.”
Ron McDowell, a Tuskegee University art professor, painted the mural. He crafted the memorial to famed Motown stars Eddie Kendrick and the Temptations on 4th Avenue North. He also sculpted the bust of the late Nina Miglionico – the trailblazing lawyer and Birmingham City Council member.
But he says this assignment was different.
“What I focused on was the truth. You know I’ve lived in Birmingham many years, off and on,” he says. “People get along here, from what I can see. This day and age in Birmingham, people are working together more so than ever. That’s what I was trying to illustrate.”
The $50,000 mural includes a semi-circle of people wearing judicial robes. Their faces are different hues.
Javin Patton is one of those judges. For her, the mural brings special meaning. Her late grandfather, W.C. Patton, helped thousands of African Americans register to vote as a leader in the NAACP. He was run out of Alabama when the state barred the NAACP in the 1950s.
“It is a reminder that we have a past. We need to remember our past. We need to consider our present, but more importantly, we need to focus on the future,” Patton says. “And it gives an idea of what the future in Jefferson County is going to look like.”
There’s one empty panel remaining in the courthouse lobby. Commissioners say future generations can use it to show continued progress.