The Boone County Commission voted Thursday afternoon to remove murals from the Boone County Courthouse that have sparked community debate.

The commission voted 2-0, with Presiding Commissioner Dan Atwill abstaining, to order the removal of the murals and their safe storage without any promise that they would be displayed in the future.

Atwill had proposed a resolution calling for the murals to be removed and stored until a more appropriate location could be found for their display. It recognized the diverse positions outlined in a public hearing last week.

Commissioner Justin Aldred said in the meeting that it is unlikely that Boone County can compel another organization to display the murals.

“My concern is using taxpayer dollars for an art gallery here in Boone County ... and I don’t know (if) the Boone County government can compel an outside entity to display anything,” Aldred said in regard to the resolution Atwill proposed.

That resolution failed to get a second from Aldred or Commissioner Janet Thompson, who proposed a resolution simply ordering the removal of the murals and their storage. Atwill abstained from voting on that resolution, but Aldred and Thompson voted for it.

Details of mural in the Boone County Courthouse

An angry crowd gathers in a scene from a mural hanging in the stairwell of the Boone County Courthouse. The murals will soon be removed.

Questions were raised earlier this year about the content of the murals in the Boone County Courthouse.

The two murals located in the stairwell of the courthouse show images of whipping and lynching of county residents and others.

The murals were created in conjunction with the expansion of the courthouse in 1994. Designed and painted by Sid Larson, they show a variety of scenes, some graphic, from Boone County history.

Gary Oxenhandler and Rusty Antel, two members of the Boone County Bar Association, initiated a discussion about the murals when they sent a letter to the County Commission last month asking for them to be removed. They argued that the murals depict cruel punishments that are no longer practiced and are troubling to those coming to the courthouse for court proceedings.

The commission held a public hearing Sept. 28 where more than 30 citizens spoke on the issue. These discussions featured individuals both for and against the continued display of the murals.

In addition to the public forum, citizens also sent in letters both electronically and physically with comments regarding the matter.

“The issue of the murals is a litmus test of where we are as a community and where we fall in this unfortunate, but important set of circumstances,” Atwill said in a statement he read at the beginning of the meeting.

In his statement he also decried the current state of political debate in the country and Washington.

“We’ve lost the ability to compromise — our form of government is based upon an all or nothing mentality,” he said.

The draft resolution proposed by Atwill noted that, “questions were raised about the propriety of the murals because of the portions that illustrate harsh punishment in the form of whipping and lynching and other features that reflect poorly on minorities and females.”

Noting the public hearing and other communication to the commission, that proposed resolution stated, “The dominant theme that was gleaned from the presentations was that the murals, while originally well-intended, would currently be more appropriately displayed in a venue that is not where justice is administered and disputes resolved.”

The proposed resolution concluded: “The Commission therefore finds that the murals should be and will be removed from the Courthouse and stored on County property until such time as an appropriate venue can be found which will appropriately display them.”

Thompson argued that the county did not have the capability to properly store artwork and could not assure that the murals would be displayed anywhere in the future. She proposed the simpler resolution, which was adopted.

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  • City and County government reporter, Fall 2021 Reach me at bcm7fc@umsystem.edu or the Newsroom at 882-5720

  • Fred Anklam manages city and county government reporters. He can be reached at anklamf@missouri.edu or in the newsroom at 573-882-5720.

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