Panel 10 of Thomas Hart Benton's Indiana Mural. Ku Klux Klan which dominated Indiana politics in early 1920s,
is shown marching in upper right. In foreground, a white hospital nurse cares for a sick black child.
A misguided group at Indiana University is chirping about the KKK image that is on one of the 22 panels in Thomas Hart Benton's magnificent 250-foot "Indiana Mural" which now hangs at the I.U. Auditorium and the Little Theater, as well as Woodburn Hall on the Bloomington Campus.
First and foremost, this is NOT a tribute to the Klan.
Read a little history and its amazing what you can find out. Despite not being a Hoosier, Thomas Hart Benton was hired by the State to do the Indiana Murals for display at the 1933 Chicago Worlds Fair. He traveled the state and studied its history for a year before creating this spectacular piece of art showing Indiana's heritage.
The mural was not without controversy at the time -- including protests about the images of the Klan in the upper corner of panel No. 10, which some felt portrayed the entire state as racists. But others also objected to the image of striking industrial workers carrying signs that stated: "“Workers-Why vote the rich man’s ticket?” claiming it was depicting socialism.
Despite complaints, the image stayed as created by the artist. Benton viewed his task as displaying the full history of the State, not just the "Chamber of Commerce" view.
After the World's Fair closed, the mural was packed away in storage at the State Fair Grounds. But visionary IU President Herman B. Wells knew the value of Benton's mural. He convinced Governor Cliff Townsend to make the mural available to I.U. for its new auditorium. In 1940, 7 years after it was last seen in public, Benton himself supervised the placement of the mural at I.U., where it has been displayed ever since.
It is one thing to take down monuments to hatred. It is quite another to attempt to sanitise and wipe clean our past. Those who would wipe out a portion of Benton's magnificent work are of the same mentality that wants to change the name of "Nigger Jim" in Huckleberry Finn, or strip bookshelfs of William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, or Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, J.D Salinger's Catcher in the Rye or Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird.
Klan rule of Indiana in the 1920s was a shameful part of our history. The only thing worst would be to blot it out as if it never happened. As George Santayana famously said, ""Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it"