Last week, the USPS released lists state-by-state of post offices they are considering closing. One of the ones in Mississippi really got my attention, because it’s been in the news this year, largely due to a gentleman from Columbus, Mississippi that now lives in Colorado — he’s upset about the mural in the downtown post office of his old hometown. His position can be found here. He’s written to the ACLU, newspapers, the SPLC, and other people and organizations about getting the mural removed.
Well, WPA murals (actually these were done by the Section of Painting and Sculpture, an arm of the Treasury) are one of my favorite things — I’ve taken pics of most of the ones in Alabama and a few in MS. This one, ‘Out of the Soil,’ was painted in 1939 by Beulah Bettersworth, from New York. She painted a farmer plowing in the forefront, with a cotton field and people picking, along with a church, gin, and mill.
If you’re into this kind of thing: she was hired to paint the mural in the Indianola post office (she called it “White Gold in the Delta” as it depicted the cotton crop) after Walter Anderson determined he couldn’t do it, due to poor health.
Here’s a pic of it from 1980, before the clear acrylic (which makes it so hard to photograph) was put on top:
Mr. LaNier “proposes showing the piece at the public library or Mississippi University for Women during Black History Month or housing it at a black-history museum, rather than at the public post office where it invokes “painful memories” of “racial intolerance.””
The idea is that the artist painted generally what she saw. The paper noted, “of the handful of patrons polled at the post office Friday morning, most found the setting a historically accurate depiction of the rural Mississippi of the time.” Some had passed through the post office without ever noticing the nearly 16-foot-wide mural.
Annie Jeffries, a lifelong Mississippi resident, looked at the painting for the first time on Friday.
“It’s very nice,” she said. “It shows where we came from — how we all had to struggle to be able to survive. I know about that because I grew up here. It’s my home. We did such as that; we picked cotton.”
The post office has that letter and documents from the era on file, including an unnamed note about the mural, possibly written by the local postmaster at the time the artwork was delivered. “Lots of blacks offended,” the note mentions.
The unnamed reviewer also points out the mural isn’t perfect. The mule in the painting, for example, has a cow’s tail, and the plowman’s harness isn’t exactly right. Still, the note says the work was “pretty good for a Yankee woman who never saw the South end of a northbound mule.”
Despite Lanier’s objections to the piece, and mixed reactions to the mural by post office customers on Friday, all agreed the historic mural depicts a time that is long past, but shouldn’t be forgotten.
“I don’t (see it as racist) because we all had to do it in order to survive — not just the blacks. I see nothing racist about it,” said Jeffries, who is black. “People leave (the South) and want to change certain things, but you can’t forget that part because it’s a part of your life. That’s your beginning.”