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Sign Adds Context to Controversial Mural in Durham Post Office

Jason Moon for NHPR

The U.S. Postal Service has installed a sign adding context to a controversial mural at the Durham Post Office.

A section of the mural titled "Cruel Adversity" depicts a Native American raid that happened in what is now Durham in 1694.

Some have called the image, painted in 1959, offensive for its one-sided depiction of history.

The USPS says its policy is to not remove any existing artwork. Instead, they installed a poster last week that gives a more nuanced account of the relationship between settlers and natives. It reads in part “these were difficult and cruel times, with atrocities committed by all sides.”

Credit Jason Moon for NHPR

Durham Town Administrator Todd Selig says the poster is a step in the right direction.

“We now, after 50 years, have a poster which gives really the rest of the story in terms of the Native American experience in the Oyster River Valley," said Selig.

Selig said the controversy isn't likely to end with the poster, however.

“I think for many people this will be very satisfying, being able to see that poster," said Selig. "For others, it will not. There are many people in the community who feel that the panel 'Cruel Adversity' should come down and that’s the only solution.”

Kathleen Blake, chairperson for the NH Commission on Native American Affairs, declined to comment without having seen the poster. The group had previously sought to have the image removed. Blake says the issue will likely be addressed at their meeting next week.

The controversy over the mural helped spur debate last year in Durham over whether to establish Indigenous Peoples' Day as a local holiday. The holiday, celebrated on the same day as Columbus Day, was approved by the Durham town council last September.

Jason Moon is a senior reporter and producer on the Document team. He has created longform narrative podcast series on topics ranging from unsolved murders, to presidential elections, to secret lists of police officers.
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