BAKER COUNTY, Fla. – A mural inside a local courthouse generated heated discussion on social media Tuesday evening. The mural was painted back in 2001 and greets people as soon as they walk into the Baker County Courthouse.
The painting shows three hooded Ku Klux Klan members riding on horses, and it's ignited a change.org petition.
The petition, which has been signed by 141 people as of Wednesday afternoon, says, "A swastika, a relic of the Holocaust or certain depictions of Adolf Hitler likely carry with it the need to weigh its obscenity or appropriateness. The same goes for a noose, a burning cross, or a Klansman."
On Wednesday, News4Jax learned of rival petition was posted on Change.org petitioning the Baker County Commission to "leave the mural alone" had 453 supporters.
C.J. Thompson, the county manager, said up until Tuesday, he'd never heard anything, good or bad, about the mural, except that back in 2001, before his time with the county, there was controversy that surrounded it and it was resolved. Thompson said no one has reached out to them formally to revisit the issue.
"If you look at the sign-in book, the overwhelming majority of the comments are very positive, both from locals and visitors of Baker County," he said. "It's the first we've heard of it. We heard about it secondhand, that there was an ongoing discussion on social media about it, and it made its way to us."
The petition was started on Change.org by a group called Florida Justice Tuesday and already has started a heated debate over whether it should be removed. The petition says the KKK is a terrorist organization and states, "Even the artist's own description of the scene shows his denial of the true horror inflicted by the KKK."
Back in the early 2000s, Gene Barber, the artist, responded to original criticism over the mural.
"I did not follow the current and unfortunate fad of revising history for the sake of making it fit the wishes of any special interest segments of society," Barber said. "I avoided as carefully as possible interpreting the past using our contemporary standards. The history of the county is here … warts and roses and all."
Thompson said if people want to see action taken, they need to place a formal letter to the county first and foremost.
"We haven't received a request to remove it, revisit it, relocate it, anything," Thompson said. "The next course of action is to schedule it for a county commission meeting to be heard. At that time it would need to be determined, would the county commission be able to make the decision, does it take coordination with court admin, or the 8th judicial circuit, or is it solely a decision of the 8th judicial circuit?"
A Baker County commissioner weighed in on the discussion and said, "Hate and racism don't come from a flag, a book, a statue, a monument, or anything else people can dream up for an excuse to condone what they do. Hate and racism comes from your heart; change your heart and problem solved. It starts with every individual heart and only you have control to change that. Our history starts with us. God bless America."