Thanks to one concerned janitor’s concerted efforts, a graphic mural of a Civil War-era lynching has been removed from the wall of a Tennessee elementary school’s gymnasium.
The mural decorated the South Cumberland Elementary School gym for an indeterminate amount of time before its discreet removal on Saturday. It reportedly depicted two white men: one, clad in a blue uniform and hanging from a tree branch, and the other, dressed in red with a Confederate flag slung over his shoulder. Apparently, the painting referenced an “athletic team rivalry,” according to CNN, and not a revisionist version of Southern history.
David Clark — who works not for South Cumberland Elementary, but for another school in the area — complained both to the superintendent and school board for months before he vented his frustration on Facebook. Clark wrote that he had been badgering officials since December to no avail, but could stomach that kids were going to the gym to play surrounded by these images every day.
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“No action has been planned or taken as of today so I am asking people to call and let them know in a respectful manner, how you feel about these racist symbols being on full public display where children can see them,” he wrote on Friday, providing the names and contact information for the district’s Title IX coordinator and its director of special education. “Germany does not display Nazi symbols. This is not heritage, it is racism.”
It seems to have been the post — which has since been shared over 400 times — and not Clark’s repeated calls for removal that translated to action: The mural was quietly repainted on Saturday. Now, both the flag and the lynching have been edited out of the image, according to CNN. South Cumberland principal Darrell Threet told the outlet that the modifications and removal of the “rebel flags” meant that “concerns regarding graphics in our gymnasium have been dealt with.”
Many of those who interacted with Clark’s post were pleased with the outcome, although no one will be surprised to learn that the comments section turned nasty. A Facebook user with a Confederate flag for their profile picture defended the institution of slavery by arguing that slaves had actually fought to preserve the Confederacy, while another user issued a call to action for all Tennessee “Patriots and those who love true history and who love the South” to organize and fight the liberal incursion.
The U.S. has a problem not just with the way it teaches its own history — some officials in Texas, for example, would like schools to promote a curriculum that frames slavery as a “side issue” in the Civil War, rather than the central one — but with casual classroom racism. On Saturday, HuffPost reported that a Florida middle school teacher has been secretly hosting a white nationalist podcast in her spare time. In one Alabama math class, students were encouraged to solve word problems about “pimps” and “hos.”
So thanks, David Clark, for removing some racism from recess. Every little bit helps.