Sullivan North mural causes controversy for KCS

CONTROVERSIAL ART. A portion of the controversial Sullivan North Mural, located in the school library, awaits the building’s renovation. The mural has sparked controversy about its exlusion of major figures from African American history, among other criticisms.

Photo/BEN CULP

CONTROVERSIAL ART. A portion of the controversial Sullivan North Mural, located in the school library, awaits the building’s renovation. The mural has sparked controversy about its exlusion of major figures from African American history, among other criticisms.

Kingsport City Schools recently bought the former Sullivan North building as a new home for Sevier Middle. There have been some arguments about whether or not a large mural at Sullivan North should be painted over or edited.

The mural is located in the school library. Sevier is supposed to move to the location on an undetermined date.

Students in teacher Don Hilton’s art class drew and painted the mural in 1980, not long after the school first opened. It shows various historical figures, including Abraham Lincoln and Woodrow Wilson, as well as cultural figures like Uncle Sam and Santa Claus.

Alex White is the band director at Sevier Middle. He has seen the mural.

“I have seen the library mural and know it was done by Sullivan North students,” he said. “I know that it holds sentimental value to the Sullivan North community.”

There are three main issues that some people have with the mural. First, the mural includes a HUGE portrait of General Robert E. Lee sitting on a horse. Lee fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War.

The mural also includes no major figures from African American History, such as Frederick Douglas, Harriet Tubman, or Martin Luther King. This may make the large number of African American students at Sevier feel awkward.

Finally, some feel that painting over the mural would give the “new” Sevier Middle a fresh start in their new building.

Some people want to keep the mural. They feel the mural is a part of the building’s history and should be preserved. It also was designed and created by students, and their work should be respected.

Matthew Curry is a sixth-grade language arts teacher at Sevier Middle. He is unsure how the school system should handle the mural.

“Fresh and new can be a wonderful thing,” he said. “However, sometimes preserving history is a wonderful thing. It depends.”

Ava Ferguson, a seventh-grade student at Sevier, disagreed.

“I think a fresh mural would be good,” she said. “Although the mural is a part of North, Sevier is adding on to it, so we should add on to it.”

Katy Lane, a sixth-grade student, disagreed.

“I think it was a good piece of history because it was put there when the school was first built,” she said.

White is not a big fan of the mural.

“I think some of the ‘history’ is suspect and it would not fall under my personal preference as ‘art’,” he said. “I think the mural would have been more historically accurate to encompass all parts of American history.”

Some people think the mural should stay because it is an important part of history.

“I understand what they are saying but since Sevier is coming, it wouldn’t just be North or just Sevier, it would be both combined,” Ferguson said.

Others feel that the mural should be replaced.

“In the same way North students did, [Sevier students should design their mural],” he said. “I think it would be a great way for Sevier students to make the school their own.”

In an interview with the Kingsport Times-News earlier this year, retiring superintendent Jeff Moorehouse stated that the mural would not be altered or replaced. Some people feel that the mural issue is now dead.

“I disagree,” he said. “If the majority of the community would still like to discuss this, then the issue isn’t dead.”

Although Kingsport City Schools seems to have made up its mind about the mural, several people are unhappy with the decision.

Seventh-grade student Malik Jones disagreed.

“They weren’t trying to be racist,” he said. “[The mural should stay] because people would admire it.”