New Deal in Mississippi: Columbus Post Office and Mural

Historic American Buildings Survey, retrieved from http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/ms0225/

Historic American Buildings Survey, retrieved from http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/ms0225/

The Columbus post office (1937-1939) in Lowndes County is another of the federal buildings funded and constructed by the New Deal Administration.  In the case of Columbus, the result was a Stripped Classic building, which was described as

…largest and most elaborate of the Colonial Revival group…(Fazio, Parrish, Blackwell, & Franks, 1979)

Having now investigated quite a few of the Mississippi post offices constructed during this time period, I would have to agree with them.  The post office is brick with white stone trim, and clearly more elegant than others in this style.  Look closely now–what detail do you see?

The slate-shingled hipped roof,  copper-topped cupola, marble-floored and marble-wainscoted building was designed by architect R. Stanley Brown and constructed by contractor Murphy Pound (Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Historic Resources Inventory).

"Out of Soil," Beulah Bettersworth, 1940; retrieved from http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/ms0225/

“Out of Soil,” Beulah Bettersworth, 1940; retrieved from http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/ms0225/

The mural in the Columbus post office, “Out of Soil” by Beulah Bettersworth, was completed and installed for $1,850 under the Treasury Section of Fine Arts.  Bettersworth also completed the mural “White Gold in the Delta” for the Indianola post office after Walter Anderson was unable to complete the commission due to his ill health.

Like many of the murals completed during that period, Bettersworth’s mural has been criticized for “racial insensitivity” (Burnett, 2011).  Apparently, according to notes made (possibly by the postmaster) at the time of installation, “…many blacks offended” (Library of Congress, HABS).   Artistic critiques included that the mules had “a cow’s tail” and the plow harness was “wrong” and that cotton pickers were shown all bunched up rather than along the rows as they would have been in reality.  A mule has a tail like a horse (since it is a cross between horse and donkey) and a donkey has a tail similar to that depicted in the mural.  Bettersworth may have confused the two, thinking a donkey and a mule were the same–many do.

Two fluted, limestone, Tuscan columns support the limestone architrave along with square limestone pilasters to either side. (U. S. Post Office–Columbus, Mississippi, National Register of Historic Places Inventory Nomination Form, Fazio et al, 1979)

 



Categories: Columbus, Historic Preservation, New Deal, Post Offices

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9 replies

  1. Serene and graceful. Why can’t the reproduction stuff built today even come close to this level of excellence? Money is certainly one factor, but I think many builders and architects today don’t grasp the simple lessons of proportion.

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  2. It is a graceful building! And, while the mural may be insensitive and not accurate it does have a sense of appeal to me in that it reminds me of a time when life was simple and yet more complicated in some ways.

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    • I think the issue with “insensitive” relates to the idea of both slavery and Jim Crow, and of course that is painful to many. Obviously, there are many different opinions of how we should deal with art and architecture that deals with our complicated past. Like most everything else in our complicated past, present and future, it won’t be easy or simple.

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  3. This design is VERY similar to the post office in Eupora!

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  4. Sometimes things that may seem insensitive can be valuable reminders of a difficult past.

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