Members of Fort Worth’s Art Commission voted to add context to part of a mural on the Will Rogers Memorial Center that depicts two people picking cotton. The other option before the commission was to remove or change the piece in question.
The issue was first raised in August after some community activists pushed to have it removed.
Robert Lee, chair of the Fort Worth Art Commission, said he before the vote he expected the commission to recommend not remove or manipulate the mural. Instead, they would add context.
“We haven’t quite determined what the interpretation would be. As a historic building, we have limits on where it could be mounted, but the intention would be something that is available on-site so when someone is viewing the mural, they have an immediately adjacent interpretative piece and understanding of what they’re seeing and interpretation of the entire mural from start from finish,” Lee explained.
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Made of 9-inch ceramic tiles, the mural went up the same year as the building – 1936.
It celebrates the first 100 years of Texas by tracing the settlement and industrial development of the West.
Lee said the draft recommendation came after a number of public meetings, as well as input from the city's historic preservation office.
Initially, Pastor Kyev Tatum of New Mount Rose Baptist Church in Forth Worth was in support of removal.
“In context, we think you have to graduate from cotton picking to picking president -- and show that,” Tatum said.
However, after conversations and working with other community members, Tatum said the issue turned to a bigger conversation.
“I would like us to get to the point that, 'Why did we have slavery? What did we learn from slavery? What did we learn from picking cotton?'” he said.
Tatum said he supported adding more context to the mural and hoped multiple voices and perspectives are included, if it reached that point.
Adding context without complete removal was a position that former Fort Worth Race and Culture Task Force chair Bob Ray Sanders has taken all along.
“Whether that’s on a plaque somewhere on the building, whether it’s in brochures when people walk in. Whatever. Make that history known and make it contextually correct,” Sanders said. “You don’t have to try to paint a different side to it. Just tell it the way it is.”