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Jefferson County adds ‘inclusive’ mural to downtown courthouse

By Ariel Worthy
The Birmingham Times
The Jefferson County Commission unveiled the new mural in the downtown County Courthouse lobby. (Ariel Worthy/The Birmingham Times)

Jefferson County officials on Tuesday unveiled a new mural which counters the controversial Jim Crow-era murals already in the downtown courthouse.

Dozens of residents, civic leaders and elected officials – including judges and area mayors – crammed the lobby in the courthouse as county commissioners and the artist, Ronald McDowell, who was commissioned for the work, unveiled his “Justice is Blind” mural.

“I wanted to tell a story of the diversity and the connection and the community that is Jefferson County,” said McDowell. “And I want to tell a story that God meant for each of us. To respect each other as human beings and to love each other as brothers and sisters.”

McDowell said the painting took three years and he wants it to be representative of the times.

“I’m trying to leave something that reminds people what we can be and where we are today and what we can be in the future,” he said. “Equality and justice for all. Justice is blind.”

The new 6 feet wide by 17 ½ foot tall mural, which faces Linn Park, is more inclusive, officials said.

The old murals completed in 1932 “reflect a different time and a different place in our history,” said Commissioner Joe Knight. “They were created in the Jim Crow Era where the reasoning was such that it is no longer prevalent or acceptable in our society today.”

Knight and Commissioner Sandra Little Brown spearheaded the effort for the commission to get the new mural in place.

“We have come a long way and I am excited about this day,” Brown said. “We have been working hard to build consensus and trust in this county and with our citizens. This does not represent Democrats or Republicans, this represents the people. This about righting wrongs. There must be change. Everything must change; nothing stays the same.”

The commission authorized a study into the murals and selected Brown to form a citizens committee to explore options on what to do. The options were to remove; cover or add.

Removing the old murals would have cost $350,000; covering for one mural would cost $50,000 and for covering for the second $26,000. A decision was made to not erase history, but add to it.

The Jefferson County Commission unveiled the new mural in the downtown County Courthouse lobby. (Ariel Worthy/The Birmingham Times)

Hezekiah Jackson IV, president of the Birmingham Metro Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and a member of the committee said, “I think it’s a great balance to the two (murals) we have besides us . . . it’s a great statement to other people who are wrestling with these issues about the Confederate flags and monuments. I think this is a great compromise, that the story can be continued.”

Jefferson County Commissioner David Carrington, who turned 70 on Tuesday, said the new mural shows that the county can work together for all.

“I don’t like the word compromise. To compromise means that you gave up something you really believe in . . . I believe in consensus. I believe we can sit down together and take a path where we can move forward.”

Jefferson County Commission President Jimmie Stephens; Commissioner George Bowman; Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin; state Senator Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, and former county commissioner Shelia Smoot were among those who gave remarks.