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After Decades Of Controversy, U Of O To Cover Up 'Oppressive' Murals

University of Oregon

After years of criticism, the University of Oregon is covering up four murals.  They’re considered dated works that promote white supremacy.

The murals are in the Knight Library, and were installed in the 1930s.  One speaks of “preserving our racial heritage” referring to white people.  Others depict white scholars working above primitive Indigenous people using crude tools.

Angela Noah is a White Mountain Apache and sophomore at the U.  She said the murals are oppressive, and set low expectations for non-white students.

“The message that I get is, “You’re not welcome in these spaces, this space is not meant for you,'” Noah told KLCC.  

Credit University of Oregon
The Mission of a University mural has been criticized for referencing the conservation and betterment "of our racial heritage".

"I’m an older sister so I would love to see my siblings come to school and not face so much that I have this past year.”

Noah said the murals have also affected her mental health, and is pleased the U of O administration has chosen to cover them.

Some of the murals have been vandalized in the past.  Earlier this summer, a reference to one of the mural's more notorious passages was found painted outside the library, which also was spattered against the building's gates and a shattered entrance.  Criticism has gained traction as the Black Lives Matter movement has surged this year.

Noah added that addressing racism in the university community will be uncomfortable for many, but it's all "part of the healing work."

Indigenous people were advanced, she said, from helping early pilgrims plant crops, to having their own forms of astronomy.

"We have lots of offer, then and now," Noah told KLCC.

Because of how they’re installed, removing the murals would destroy parts of the walls. So the U of O is having them covered up with aluminum panels at the price of $32,000.   Each panel will be covered with a printed photo reproduction of the Minnesota Kasota limestone walls around it, to help them blend in. 

A contractor should have them covered by October 1st, according to a university release.

Copyright 2020, KLCC.

Brian Bull is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Oregon, and remains a contributor to the KLCC news department. He began working with KLCC in June 2016.   In his 27+ years as a public media journalist, he's worked at NPR, Twin Cities Public Television, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Wisconsin Public Radio, and ideastream in Cleveland. His reporting has netted dozens of accolades, including four national Edward R. Murrow Awards (22 regional),  the Ohio Associated Press' Best Reporter Award, Best Radio Reporter from  the Native American Journalists Association, and the PRNDI/NEFE Award for Excellence in Consumer Finance Reporting.