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Ruling dismisses lawsuit but protects controversial mural at the University of Kentucky

Memorial Hall. Photo by Pete Comparoni | UKphoto
Pete Comparoni/Pete Comparoni
Memorial Hall. Photo by Pete Comparoni | UKphoto

A lawsuit filed to stop the removal of a controversial mural on the University of Kentucky’s campus has been dismissed. But the judge’s ruling also requires it still be maintained.

The 1930s mural by Ann Rice O’Hanlon depicts Black men and women planting tobacco and a Native American man holding a tomahawk.

The depictions have been a source of protests from students, including a hunger strike.

University President Eli Capilouto announced its removal in June of 2020. A lawsuit was filed to keep the mural in place by writer Wendell Berry and his wife the following month.

The Monday ruling by Judge Thomas Wingate says the Berrys did not have the legal standing to file the suit, but also says the artwork has historical significance.

“The O’Hanlon Mural does not glorify the abhorrent practice of slavery or the taking of Native American territory. But rather is a concise depiction of what Ms. O’Hanlon was instructed to create — a history of Kentucky from 1792 through the 1920s,” the ruling said.

Since the mural is painted directly on plaster and its removal would destroy it, the ruling orders the university to leave it where it is, pending any appeal.

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Shepherd joined WEKU in June 2023 as a staff reporter. He most recently worked for West Virginia Public Broadcasting as General Assignment Reporter. In that role, he collected interviews and captured photos in the northern region of West Virginia. Shepherd holds a master’s degree in Digital Marketing Communication and a bachelor’s in music from West Virginia University.
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