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Historian on University of Idaho Cover-Up: 'Misplaced Instinct'

"Covering it, no matter how well intentioned, is a mistake. Is it offensive? Yes. That said, because it tells a story, it's important."


The headlines about racial insensitivity spread across the globe June 25, but this time the center of the debate wasn't the Confederate flag or South Carolina. Instead, the world's media turned its lens toward Idaho and a mural inside the under-renovation Old Ada County Courthouse and soon-to-be Boise law center for the University of Idaho College of Law-Boise.

When the U of I swings open the doors of new center in August , university officials say they don't want the public to see two permanent murals depicting white settlers about to hang a Native American.

Lee Dillion, an associate dean at the law school, told Channel 6 KIVI-TV the paintings had "no connection to the history of Idaho." He couldn't have been more wrong. The controversial paintings, dating back to a commission from the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, are part of the largest remaining collection of WPA art in all of Idaho.

"Covering it, no matter how well intentioned, is a mistake," said Dan Everhart, architectural historian and board member of Preservation Idaho. "Is it offensive? Yes. That said, because it tells a story, it's important."

The mural in question is part of a progression of images for the old courthouse. Unfortunately, it wasn't put in the right position.

"That mural was intended to be on the lowest level, because it's the lowest level of justice: mob justice. As you go up the walls, it was supposed to take you through the evolution of how law is to be administered, until you come to being judged in courts by a jury of your peers," Everhart told Boise Weekly. "But they put it in the wrong order."

Meanwhile, it can't be moved without being seriously damaged.

"The canvas is directly affixed to the wall," said Everhart. "It would be significant expense to take it away; odds are you would damage it."

That said, U of I doesn't want it be on public display, despite the fact that Native American tribes worked with state officials in 2008 to place interpretative plaques that read, in part, "Their story is an important part of the mosaic of Idaho's past, present and future."

"This instinct from the U of I of trying to protect us from ourselves is a misplaced instinct," said Everhart. "We will suffer from that."