Baker County Seemingly Changes Tone On Relocating Courthouse Mural With KKK

Aug 5, 2020

After agreeing to explore relocation of the controversial mural that hangs in the Baker County Courthouse in July, some of the commissioners backpedaled on their previous assertions Tuesday night. 

Commission Chair James Bennett said what took place at the July 21 meeting was not a vote, but rather a discussion on the mural’s relocation.

The mural depicts Baker County’s history, with one of its vignettes portraying three Ku Klux Klan members riding on horseback. It’s been hanging in the courthouse since 2001. 

“What I took away from that [July 21] conversation is the majority of this board was in favor of relocation of the mural,” Bennett said. 

Commissioners Jimmy Anderson, Cathy Rhoden and Bobby Steele said they were in favor of finding a new place to keep the mural. Bennett and Commissioner James Croft didn’t give a clear indication whether they wanted it rehomed or kept in place.

Last week, Croft made his position clear in a video posted to Facebook, after reiterating that the July discussion on relocation was not a vote.  

“Should this ever come to a vote on the Baker County Commission, my vote will be to leave the mural in the courthouse,” Croft said. “It was painted for the courthouse. It reflects the history of Baker County. The good and bad, roses and warts.”

At the Tuesday meeting, Bennett said he would be against removing the mural if there were no other suitable locations to house it. 

There was no update given on if any location to keep the mural was evaluated. 

Bennett also said that the commissioners’ decision will not make everyone happy. 

“That's a given,” Bennett said.

Anderson, who in July said he didn’t want Baker County to be represented by the mural, shifted his tone in Tuesday’s meeting.

“I can tell you for a fact - I am not a racist, but I am for doing the right thing, and I am also for protecting our history,” Anderson said. “No matter what history it is, good [or] bad. I'll tell you what, if it wasn't for the bad history, we wouldn't be good now.” 

Steele, who in July suggested the mural be put to a county referendum, but ultimately sided with exploring the mural’s removal, had a change on Tuesday. 

“I'm not in favor of removing history,” Steele said. “I'm not in favor of damaging the property or the painting... the only thing I agreed to two weeks ago was that if there was an opportunity, or something came up that we were going to move it, that we'd have a place that would be safe.I never said that I was in favor of removing it or moving it.”

Rhoden said just because there was a mural depicting the KKK in the courthouse, it had no impact on the law being properly carried out.

“There is justice in our own courtroom. I've seen it every time. And not only justice, but grace. Grace for people where I've even though ‘golly, they didn't really deserve that.’ But they did. I guess if the good Lord wanted them to have, they deserved it. I've never seen any injustice in our courthouse.”

Many comments in Baker County social media groups have been calling for the decision to the mural to come down to a public vote. But Bennett made it clear that the decision will lie with the commissioners.

“We make the decisions. We should make that decision. And if we don't have the ability to make that decision, we should be voted out. We are on the ballot every four years,” Bennett said.  

The next commissioner’s meeting will take place on August 20, two days after the August 18 primary election, where two of the commissioners’ five seats are up for grabs

Sky Lebron can be reached at slebron@wjct.org, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @SkylerLebron.