Old And New

Two 1931 John W. Norton murals are installed at the Jefferson County Courthouse in Birmingham, right in the foyer where the security guards have their station.  This, on one side of the room is ‘Old South’ — it’s not so easy to see here, but included besides the woman is a steamboat, columned mansions, men on horseback, cabins, people picking cotton, and a man harvesting sugar cane:

John W. Norton Murals, Jefferson County Courthouse, Birmingham AL

On the opposite side, we have what’s entitled ‘New South’ with a gentleman holding architectural plans, a factory, locomotive, power station, a man shipping a bale of cotton, a miner, and steelworkers:

John W. Norton Murals, Jefferson County Courthouse, Birmingham AL

John Norton also did murals inside the Woodbury County Courthouse in Sioux City, Iowa — which happens to be the largest civic building in the US built in Prairie style:

(These two images courtesy AmyFry2000, via Creative Commons. Thank you!)

The book — Civil Rights Memorials and the Geography of Memory — was not complimentary of how John Norton portrayed his subjects in the Jefferson County courthouse.

Last month, the local paper reported about the hiding of George Beattie’s mural at the post office in Macon, Georgia:

One day four or five years ago, Beattie III, who was born in Macon and now lives in Atlanta, went by the post office.

He explained who he was and someone “very cordial” let him into the employee-only area to view his father’s work. The walls that would later hide it hadn’t been built yet.

“My father was doing things in those murals that were very subtle, extremely subtle,” Beattie III said, adding that anyone who concluded his father was somehow endorsing slavery was mistaken.

“His whole idea was to say, ‘Well, I’ve got to show history. How can I show it in such a way that will illuminate the consciousness of what was really going on?’” Beattie III said. “If people look at it and are simply offended by the reality of what history was, these are small minds.”

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