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'Cruel Adversity' mural still a source of controversy in Durham

Union Leader Correspondent

April 25. 2018 12:55AM
The postal service hung a poster to explain this panel in a controversial Durham mural, but some say it is not enough. (KIMBERLEY HAAS/Union Leader Correspondent)

DURHAM — A poster explaining the history behind a controversial mural at the Durham Post Office has been hung, but some people say more should be done to clarify the “Cruel Adversity” panel.

The panel shows a Native American preparing to torch a settler’s home during the Oyster River Massacre of 1694 and is one of 16 images painted as part of the mural in the main lobby of the post office. The mural was commissioned by the Women’s Club of Durham in 1959 and was created by artist Bernard Chapman.

Steve Doherty, a communications specialist for the United States Postal Service, said the poster that was hung on the other side of the lobby two weeks ago was designed by Frank Schultz-Depalo at USPS headquarters in Washington, D.C.

The poster says settlers and Wabanakis initially lived in peace, sharing and trading resources, but disputes rose as the colonists expanded their land usage.

“These were difficult and cruel times, with atrocities committed by all sides. In 1676, Maj. Richard Waldron of Dover invited the local Wabanaki tribes to a peace conference. Hundreds answered his call — he double-crossed them. About 200 Indians were apprehended and sent to Boston: some were killed, while others were shipped to the Caribbean in slavery,” the poster says.

Rev. Larry Brickner-Wood of the Waysmeet Center said he is appreciative of the role that the town took in facilitating conversation with the postal service, but still finds the context of the mural problematic and wishes it was not in a prominent setting.

This poster designed by the postal service was hung in Durham earlier this month to contextualize a controversial mural some find offensive to Native Americans. (KIMBERLEY HAAS/Union Leader Correspondent)

“Every time I ask a person who does not identify as white about their perception or reaction to the mural, they point not only to the panel we have been discussing, but to the entire piece of art as essentially ignoring native peoples — not to mention blacks and others — except for the one panel showing an indigenous person with a torch. They all know what it means to not be white in a white culture, and too often have their identities portrayed in negative ways,” Brickner-Wood said.

Brickner-Wood said he would like to see the panel or caption altered.

Durham Town Administrator Todd Selig said the New Hampshire Commission on Native American Affairs has not provided feedback about the poster, even after the organization’s input was sought.

Selig is satisfied the poster provides the rest of the story.

“What the poster really makes clear is there was cruel adversity on both sides,” Selig said.

The post office has a policy that it will not remove or alter artwork.

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