Re-Writing History Is Not the Answer [OPINION]
The University of Rhode Island will remove a series of nearly 70-year-old murals from the student union because they display “predominantly white” figures. The murals were painted by Arthur Sherman, a veteran who attended URI after returning from World War II. School officials say the murals "lack diversity."
WJAR reported "the murals depict servicemen returning to Kingston, a class reunion, URI commencement, a South County beach scene, and students piled into a jalopy wearing letter sweaters."
Returning veterans, including Sherman, raised money in the community to fund the mural project, which, when dedicated in 1954 was dubbed “The Memorial Union” at the University of Rhode Island. When Sherman enrolled at URI in 1950, the student population was almost all white. The murals reflect that.
Vice President of Student Affairs Kathy Collins told WJAR, “We’ve made a really difficult decision as we aim for the university’s future and we think about who are our students today, and who are our students going to be tomorrow.”
Collins said some are put off by the murals.
“I have received complaints about the murals that portray a very homogeneous population predominately the persons painted and depicted on the wall are predominantly white and that does not represent who our institution is today," she said.
Members of the Sherman family are offended by the decision to remove the murals. And they should be. The murals depict a moment in time. A moment not only important to the history of the university but for the nation as a whole. They should remain.
Times have changed, and the URI campus has become a more diverse community. That should be depicted in a new set of murals to accompany Sherman's work on the student union walls. You simply cannot re-write history to make the current occupants of the planet feel more comfortable with it.
Removing these murals and tearing down statues and other cultural artifacts to satisfy someone's comfort zone is short-sighted and wrong. New murals and new statues side-by-side with the old is a truer measurer of growth than is simply attempting to erase the past as though it never existed.
Barry Richard is the host of The Barry Richard Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from noon to 3 p.m. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @BarryJRichard58. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.