A New Hampshire town is being inundated with complaints about a mural in the town’s post office depicting a “racist, offensive” picture of Native Americans.
“Complaints are fairly frequent. A visitor marching into our office and saying, ‘How can you have this racist, offensive picture in our post office?’” Todd Selig, Durham Town Administrator, told NH1.com.
The scene, titled “Cruel Adversity,” is a painting of a Native American man crouching in the bushes outside a white settler’s home with a flaming torch in hand. It’s one of a 16-part mural and it’s intended to depict the Oyster River Massacre of 1694, in which a group of Native Americans, working with a French soldier, raided settlements on the Oyster River and killed or captured around 100 settlers. The Women’s Club of Durham commissioned the painting from artist Bernard Chapman in 1959, according to the Union Leader.
Critics say the mural is an unfair portrayal of that battle because it doesn’t present the attack in the context of the abuses endured by Native Americans. According to one archaeologist, the attack was the result of settlers having violated treaties with local tribes and having no legal recourse to defend their rights.
“The Indians were not just sitting around the campfire saying let’s go kill the Anglos,” archaeologist Craig Brown told SeaCoastNH.com. “The Native people were intelligent. They had a legitimate beef. They tried negotiating and even taking their complaints through the English courts. Warfare was their last course of action.”
But Selig told reporters that he thinks the mural should stay, because it’s a historical depiction, and because he says it’s against government rules to remove artworks from post office buildings. He said a U.S. Postal Service historian is creating a plaque to go up next to the mural, explaining the history of the massacre.
“We cannot rewrite history, but we can provide objective context with the fullness of time. It’s my hope we can find language that honors Durham’s past, and the many nuances that encompassed the people who over time have inhabited this land,” he told the New Hampshire Union Leader.
Selig added that Durham’s Heritage Commission is likely to hold a hearing about the mural after the post office text is in place.