The Verizon building just off Vanderbilt’s campus is home to murals of the current football, baseball and basketball coaches since 1991.
New head coach Derek Mason’s face was painted over former coach James Franklin’s, but the paint-over is about to get a makeover.
Vanderbilt’s NAACP chapter started a petition to update the picture of his face because they said it was reminiscent of the minstrelsy era. This comes after a Vanderbilt NAACP event on “blacks in the media” that took place after the mural was completed.
“We realized it was reminiscent of the minstrelsy era in which black people’s skin was darkened and their lips were made whiter in order to exaggerate their race in order to put them in a sharp contrast with the white race,” Akailah Jenkins told the Tennessean, who is president of the Vanderbilt chapter of the NAACP.
“In the mural, his skin is black, not brown, and his lips are white. It doesn’t look like him.”
Muralist Michael Cooper hasn’t gotten a chance to meet Mason, and he painted the mural based on a photograph given to him by the university. He believes the whole thing is a misunderstanding.
“I have been painting on this mural for 22 years, and every time that I have worked on a portrait of a coach, I have always had a chance to meet the coach,” Cooper said. “In this particular instance, I never got a chance to meet Coach Mason, and the only thing I had to go on was a photograph sent to me by Vanderbilt athletics.”
Jenkins, who is president of Vanderbilt’s NAACP chapter, said she believes Cooper didn’t do it on purpose, but she says there’s an underlying problem of being unaware of these types of issues.
“There was never once any thought in my mind that he did this on purpose. But the problem is not understanding American history, because it’s not just a black history issue.
“I think there are good and bad parts to this,” Jenkins said. “I think it’s awesome that he agreed to change it. However, there is still the underlying problem of being unaware of these types of things, and then being made aware of them and not necessarily acting on them until you are contacted by the person that paid for it.”
So, what does Derek Mason think about all this? Mason said he has driven by the mural, and he didn’t think it was an accurate depiction of him personally.
“I don’t believe the painting is representative of me, personally,” Mason said. “But if that’s somebody’s depiction, then so be it. There are still freedoms that are still allowed in this country, but when I look at it, I don’t think that’s an accurate depiction of me.”
Cooper said he has been in contact with Vanderbilt about altering the mural, and, weather permitting, it should be completed in the next couple of weeks.
Here’s video of the mural being painted:
You can also watch this video on YouTube