A painting of slaves working on a Georgia plantation, picking cotton and harvesting sugar cane, will be removed from the walls of a government state building in Georgia, according to an order issued by the new agriculture commissioner.
The murals are part of a collection of eight works created by George Beattie in 1956 as an idealized depiction of agriculture in Georgia. The collection depicts the movement of food and farming in the Peach state, commemorating the prehistoric beginnings of food grown by Native Americans, and continuing up to the most recent developments in scientific labs. The paintings are troubling because they bring back to mind the imagery of forced slave labor. In the 1800s, before emancipation, more than 280,000 slaves lived and worked in the state of Georgia, making up 40 percent of the state’s population.
“I don’t like those pictures,” Republican Gary Black, the newly elected agriculture commissioner, told Associated Press. “There are a lot of other people who don’t like them.”
The murals in question depict two White men in top hats inspecting and weighing cotton that has been processed and produced by Black slaves. One slave is bent over, picking cotton buds by hands, while two other slaves use the Whitney gin to separate cotton fiber from seeds. There is no imagery of the whipping or beating that may have been used to harm or subjugate the slaves.
According to a department-sponsored article in 1995 before he died, Beattie defended his work, claiming that it is an important installment of Georgia’s cultural past that Georgians should not shy away from.
“As a human being, I am vehemently opposed to slavery, as anyone should be,” Beattie said, “but it was a significant epoch in our history; it would have been inaccurate not to include this period.”
However, Black claims that the images have got to go.
“I think we can depict a better picture of agriculture,” Black said, suggesting a less controversial piece to take the artwork’s place.