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Newark Library Displays Slave Having Sex With White Man

Artist Kara Walker
Jason Kempin/Getty Images

A library that covered up a drawing of a Black female slave having sex with a White man after workers found it inappropriate is displaying it again.

The drawing, created by Black artist Kara Walker, shows the horrors many Blacks faced after the Civil War and during reconstruction and includes a depiction of a slave performing oral sex. It initially was hung during Thanksgiving in the Newark Public Library’s second-floor reference room, but officials reluctantly covered it with a cloth after one day because some workers complained it was insensitive.

The Star-Ledger newspaper reported Sunday that library officials and staffers have since met to discuss the drawing and decided it could be uncovered.

Library employee Kendell Willis told the newspaper that he had a better understanding of the library officials’ position after the meeting.

“They said there are a lot of things in artwork we don’t want to talk about, and that made absolute sense,” he said.

Library officials plan to invite Walker to speak about the drawing, artistic freedom and the role of Black artists in society.

“The library should be a safe harbor for controversies of all types, and those controversies can be dealt with in the context of what is known about art, about literature, democracy and freedom,” library trustee Clement A. Price, a Rutgers university history professor, told the newspaper. “There’s no better venue in Newark where such a powerful and potential controversial drawing should be mounted.”

Price noted that the portrayal of the Black American experience is a sensitive issue.

“Should we be depicted sentimentally, romantically?” he said. “Should some of the grotesque realities be depicted in art or movies?”

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