Name: University of Tennessee Mural Covered Up

Date:  1951 - 1975

Location:  North America


MediumPublic art , Painting

image description
Artist: Marion Greenwood

Confronting Bodies: Student activities director, U Tennessee

Date of Action: 1972

Specific Location: University Center ballroom

Description of Artwork: The mural was commissioned in 1954 to be placed in the brand new University Center Ballroom. The artist, Marion Greenwood, was one of the most famous artists in the U.S. at the time, having won several national awards and painted other large murals throughout the country.

The mural traverses Tennessee’s musical heritage, illustrating the distinctive music of the state’s three grand divisions. To the left Greenwood paints the delta blues of Memphis; in the center she portrays the Grand Ole Opry; and to the right she expresses the religious music of the mountains. UT faculty and students served as models for the painting.

Description of Incident: The mural became controversial in the late 1960s when many minority students were offended by the portrayal of an African-American donning a straw hat and picking cotton in the left-center of the painting. Many people thought he looked happy.

Then, on the evening of May 17 or the early morning of May 18, 1970, the painting was vandalized with paints and solvents, though not the portion depicting the slave.

After the mural was repaired, and following a series of race riots on campus and new threats against the mural, the University Center governing board decided to protect the mural from further harm and declared that the mural should be covered “until such time it can be accepted as a historical painting.” That was in May of 1972.

Results of Incident: In 2006 the mural was revealed again. There were proposals to move it to a museum.

Source: NCAC, Knoxville News Sentinel, The Daily Beacon

Submitted By: NCAC

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