MACCLENNY, Fla. – The Baker County Courthouse mural depicting three hooded Ku Klux Klan members riding on horses has been a controversial topical for nearly two decades.
Now, it appears the mural may be moved to a new home.
During Tuesday evening’s Baker County Board of Commissioners meeting, commissioners discussed for a while moving the mural from the courthouse but they did not formally vote to move it.
But even if they wanted to quickly move it, that would be a problem, as the large mural, which stretches from floor to ceiling in the entryway of the courthouse, wouldn’t fit in a lot of buildings with traditional ceiling heights.
Two commissioners spoke in favor of moving the mural. Two others remained quiet in a clear decision.
Chairman James Bennett, who acknowledges this is a sensitive topic, seemed to suggest he would approve moving the mural if there is first a place confirmed for the mural to go.
A group of lawyers is demanding the mural’s immediate removal.
“I don’t want people to have to go through the courthouse and be reminded of injustice,” said Mitch Stone, president of the Floria Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
The association wrote a letter to Chief Judge James Nilon of the 8th Judicial Circuit saying the KKK denied justice to many and they do not represent the ideals of the justice system.
“I think it does have value from a historical standpoint. I don’t agree with those who think that it’s appropriate to erase history,” Stone said. “But the difference is that in a courthouse -- a courthouse is the one building that government provides in order to dispense justice.”
Jim McGauley, publisher of the Baker County Press, said to understand the mural’s place in the courthouse is to, partly, understand the man who created it.
“It’s so ironic that people would accuse him of any type of bias or prejudice because I know him quite well, and he was the antithesis. He was very tolerant in everything he did,” McGauley said.
Artist Gene Barber said in the early 2000s that he wouldn’t change a thing about 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.”
Barber died a few years ago, so we can’t ask him his thoughts on the controversy resurfacing.
“I don’t believe it would have changed at all,” McGauley said. “He was very proud of the mural, and if a person takes the time to look at it from left to right -- because it goes from left to right, from almost prehistoric to present day -- it’s kind of a roadmap of Gene’s mind and how he interpreted the history of Baker County.”
McGauley said Barber purposefully made the KKK portion small and Barber agreed when the mural was moved years ago to the entryway on the bottom floor, away from courthouse chambers on the upper floors.
All five county commissioners had not responded to News4Jax’s request for comment as of early Wednesday evening.
The next step would be for commissioners to formally vote to move the mural. They just don’t know where and when they would do that.