Herman B Wells brought Thomas Hart Benton's murals to Indiana University. He was also extremely influential in reducing the power of the Klan in the area, starting when that power was great. I was present when a student said to Wells that she knew the murals were objective history when they were first displayed in 1933 and asked whether it was appropriate to show them.
He replied that they were not objective history. They were a weapon.
I grew up in the South before many of the grandparents of IU students were born, so I already knew how to understand the offending panel. The Klan members with a burning cross are high in the middle of the picture — far in the background. They are not especially attractive and are dwarfed by all the other people depicted. They are immediately upstaged by a nurse caring for two babies, one black and one white, and a man praying by the babies. Back then, many hospitals did not admit both races and some that did would not have had integrated nurseries.
In the foreground, utterly upstaging the Kluxers and the largest scale person shown, is a journalist working on his typewriter. Some Klansmen thought of themselves as dragons, but they knew by bitter experience that a journalist with a typewriter was St. George and his mighty spear. The Klan in 1933 would have known that this panel was a weapon aimed at its heart.
Benton was also a strong opponent of fascism and Nazism.
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