Commission on Multicultural Understanding

Benton Mural

The Benton Murals have been a source of controversy and conversation on the IU Bloomington campus since 1941 when Indiana University President Herman B Wells had the painting installed in the IU Auditorium, the IU Theater (now the IU Cinema) and Woodburn Hall. Created by Thomas Hart Benton for the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, the 22-panel mural series depicts the social and industrial history of Indiana from Native American mound builders to the industrialized age.

  • What's the Controversy?

    • The 10th cultural panel “Parks, the Circus, the Klan, the Press” is the source of the Benton Mural controversy. Currently housed in Woodburn 100, the panel highlights the role and influence of the Ku Klux Klan in state politics during the early 1890s. The panel evokes discomfort.
    • During the creation of the murals, the presence of the Klan was hotly debated. Opponents felt Indiana and its citizens should be depicted in the best possible light.
    • Today, opponents argue the presence of the panel causes distraction in the classroom. Students report feeling uncomfortable by the depiction of the Ku Klux Klan. Some find it difficult to attend lectures and others report difficulty focusing on exams.
  • Indiana University's Response

    • The influence of the Ku Klux Klan in Indiana in the early 20th century is an undeniable political reality of 1920’s Indiana. “Parks, the Circus, the Klan, the Press” serves as a reminder and testimonial to an unsavory and criminal portion of Indiana’s history. Its presence helps insure history will be not repeated.
    • The presence of the mural does not signal approval of the Ku Klux Klan – past or present. Indiana University opposes discrimination in all of its forms.
    • One of Indiana University’s missions is to promote and to preserve the arts. Removing the panel could result in damage or destruction of the panels.
COMU’s Involvement

COMU commissioned a video project to provide an educational context for the controversial Benton murals located in Woodburn Hall. The video serves as a resource to students, staff, faculty, and the community to better understand the purpose and history of the Benton murals. Professor Ron Osgood led the project and collaborated with variety of COMU subcommittees. Filming was completed in April 2012.