Councilwoman says Elgin lynching mural will be relocated
The city of Elgin will take down "the lynching mural" from its outdoor spot downtown and relocate it inside the Hemmens Cultural Center.
Councilwoman Tish Powell said negative reaction and a protest Friday afternoon about the mural, which depicts the crowd in a 1930 lynching in Indiana, sparked the decision. The move will occur soon, Powell said.
"This has become a distraction to the work that we are trying to do moving forward," she said.
The city will hold, as planned, two public meetings June 7 and June 13 to give residents the chance to air their views on the mural, created by artist David Powers and installed about a decade ago in a pedestrian walkway between Spring Street and Grove Avenue.
"We still want to have those conversations," Powell said.
The mural is returning to its place of birth, the Hemmens, where Powers and students from Judson University created it as a city-commissioned project.
City leaders said they were unaware of the story behind the mural until this week.
The discussion started after two friends on Tuesday night walked by the mural and realized it's an almost exact replica of a photograph of the crowd that gawked at the lynching. The mural does not depict the bodies of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith dangling from tree branches, as the original photo by Lawrence Beitler does.
One of the friends posted on a public Facebook group in Elgin, sparking immediate debate about whether the mural should stay or go.
There were about 30 people at the protest Friday, which was peaceful and advocated for the mural's removal.
"Once it's offending people -- and communities have said it's offending -- it has to be removed," resident Corey Battles said.
Resident Demitrius Smith agreed. "These people were savages," he said of the crowd depicted in the mural. "And why is it in downtown Elgin? It didn't even happen here."
Powers, the artist, said he created the mural to shine a deliberate spotlight on the everyday men and women who perpetuate evil.
He condemned the city's decision to move it indoors but also said he wasn't too surprised by it. "I'm never astonished by the lack of resolve or cowardice of people," he said.
Terance Blalark of Elgin, who came to the protest, said people should believe Powers' explanation for his work and not read sinister motives into it.
"People are trying to condemn what the artist is doing," he said, adding the mural shouldn't be removed. "If (Powers) stated what he stated, we should be taking him for his word."
Longtime resident Ernie Broadnax, who coproduced a documentary on Elgin's black pioneers, agreed but said signage should have been added to explain the mural's context.
"It's a part of our American history," he said.