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Boone County Commission hears support, opposition to courthouse murals


The Boone County Commission heard support for and opposition Tuesday to removing 25-year-old paintings by former Columbia College art professor Sid Larson from the Boone County Courthouse.

Watch the meeting replay in the player below.

A group of Boone County judges and attorneys asked for the removal of the mural because of their graphic depictions. The murals depict lynchings, whipping and other violence against people of color.

Rusty Antel, one of the attorneys spearheading the effort, and Gary Oxenhandler asked the commission to take out the murals placed on the landings of the courthouse steps.

Antel, a private practice attorney in Columbia, told ABC 17 News Judge Brook Jacobs sent a letter in July to the commission, saying a majority of Boone County judges wanted the murals removed.

"By a supermajority vote of the judges, they wanted the mural taken down because it was a distraction to the court's operations," Antel said.

Antel said after Jacobs sent the letter and nothing had changed, he and Gary Oxenhandler sent a letter to the Boone County Bar Association asking if the murals should be removed.

"We sent about 320 emails out, and we got about 110 responses and better than 90% of the people who responded said we want the murals gone," Antel said.

Antel said the mural has no place in a courthouse.

"There are certainly parts of the mural that are not at issue with what will be discussed tonight, but there are four or five that are brutal and inhumane and indecent and our point is they have no place in a courthouse where you are attempting to do justice," Antel said.

Antel said the message being sent from the mural is the opposite of what the judges are trying to do.

"One of the things the judges in terms of values in the courthouse is that everybody who enters whether it's a defendant in a criminal case or a party in a civil case, a juvenile... Everybody is entitled to be treated decently and humanely, and the judges work really hard to do that," Antel said.

One lawyer said the murals should stay. Bill Powell wrote to the county commission, saying they should not let people politicize the artwork.

Powell told ABC 17 News that the people who want the mural taken down are misinterpreting its message.

"I think it's a misinterpretation of the murals; I think that's a sort of off the cuff reaction to one or two of the hundreds of images they contain and having them removed because of that kind of reaction without careful study of the murals would be a mistake," Powell said.

Powell said the murals honor many people in Boone County history.

"They honor many people in Boone County history in a very substantial way and in a way of reminding people by use of actual events in Boone Counties' history, where justice was either not rendered or rendered in a way that we in these days would disapprove of," Powell said.

Powell said the murals are a way to learn from the past.

"Learning from the past about heroic behavior and the surface of justice and also learning from the past about things that today would be considered injustices I think are both very valuable to have in the courthouse," Powell said.

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Leila Mitchell

Leila is a Penn State graduate who started with KMIZ in March 2021. She studied journalism and criminal justice in college.


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