Petition aims to remove post office’s mural depicting Black people picking cotton

GASTONIA, N.C. — Channel 9 is looking into a decades-old mural on display at a Gastonia post office that shows Black people picking cotton.

There is a petition online to have the mural removed, though is has not gotten a lot of support. The mural has been in the post office for decades, but Shaine Sutton didn’t know about it until she came in with her family to get a passport.

“And we happened to notice this painting while we were waiting,” Sutton said.

The mural shows Black people, mostly women, picking cotton and even has a young-looking girl in it. It doesn’t call them slaves, but Sutton said it took her family back to that time.

“My husband said they might as well hung the Confederate flag up there because that’s the same type of feeling you get looking at that picture,” she said.

Sutton was frustrated by the idea that people mailing items or trying to get a passport, like her family was, are forced to see what she calls a depressing scene in a federal building.

“Talking about being united and going forward, and yet you have this picture that depicts an oppressing time in American history,” she said.

Historian Tom Hanchett told Eyewitness News reporter Ken Lemon that the painting and others like it were commissioned by the federal government around the Great Depression as a way of getting people, even artists back to work. He said they were meant to be snapshots of the community.

“The murals were never literally trying to depict the whole of a community’s history,” he said.

Hanchett said he didn’t think it was originally designed to be demeaning then, but it’s not as acceptable now.

“Today, we are trying to have a more multidimensional picture of the past,” he said.

Postal officials sent Channel 9 the following statement regarding the mural:

“While it is the policy of the Postal Service to preserve and protect the historic artwork in its collection for future generations, we are mindful that certain murals generate strong feelings for some of our employees and customers.”

The Postal Service would not say if there are plans to remove the mural.