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Rep. David Tyson Smith calls for removal of Boone County Courthouse mural

Columbia Rep. David Tyson Smith joined the push to remove a mural depicting an “ugly past” from the Boone County courthouse this week. 

Smith, a Democrat who took office in April, called on the county commission to remove the mural depicting slave labor, whippings, and a hanging from the courthouse and place them with the historical society instead. Smith said he intended to address the commission, which has the authority to move the image, directly at a meeting next week. 

“It’s important to build a bridge to the future, not the past, and this mural represents an ugly past,” Smith told The Missouri Times. “I was a practicing attorney in that courthouse and I was never comfortable with it in the building; I can’t believe it’s been there this long. It shows hostility to everyone who enters that building wanting justice when they see this as soon as they walk in the door.”

The push has received support from others connected with the courthouse: Attorney Rusty Antel and former Presiding Judge Gary Oxenhandler sent a letter last week calling on the commission to remove the mural along with one depicting a man pointing a gun at a Native American person, Smith said. The murals were placed near the courthouse steps in 1994. 

Smith, the first Black representative elected to HD 45, said the removal of the images would be the first step toward broader changes. 

“We must not lose sight of the real substantive social and criminal justice reforms that need to occur,” Smith said. 

He cited racial profiling, the state’s public defender system, and “excessive” bail as priorities of his time in the statehouse. 

Fellow attorney Bill Powell, immediate past president of the Boone County Historical Society, wrote to the commission in support of the murals. Powell said the images, created by Missouri artist Sid Larson, were a reminder of the justice system’s purpose.

“If people in the courthouse fail in their job to produce justice, things can go terribly, terribly wrong,” Powell wrote. “That’s what I believe Sid Larson was portraying by choosing to include the images that are being objected to.”

The next Boone County Commission meeting is scheduled for Tuesday. The commission is expected to take public comment during the meeting, according to its agenda.