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New Philly Mural Highlights The Truths And Contradictions Embedded In The Declaration of Independence

October 24, 2021

Incredible new mural this month from Mural Arts Philadelphia asks its viewers to hold truth to power and examine the spoken and unspoken truths in one of the United States’ founding documents. Conceived by artists Reginald Dwayne Betts and Titus Kaphar as their contribution as fellows with Mural Arts Philadelphia’s Reimagining Re Entry Fellowship, the mural is titled Declaration and it is located at 15th and Race Streets in Center City. To create the mural, Reginald and Titus chose to work with men and women from Mural Arts’ Guild Program, a reentry program for men and women returning from prison, as well as men from the Mural Arts mural program at SCI Phoenix.

“The general idea of this project is that the Declaration of Independence is both a revolutionary document but one that brings to life the many contradictions of America,” the project’s website reads. “The idea of redaction is that the most poignant of documents always reveal something of their truths and contradictions, and that by redacting text from those documents, you can have some control over what is seen more, the truth or the contradiction. Declaration shows the truths and contradictions embedded in the Declaration of Independence. While it states that ‘all men are created equal’ a short time later during the writing of the Constitution the 3/5 clause rewrote that to determine that for the purposes of representation in Congress enslaved African Americans would be counted as 3/5 of the number of white inhabitants of each state. This equation has been guiding the United States for nearly 250 years and only in light of the recent racial reckoning brought about by the deaths of young Black men and women by police has there begun to be a shift in public perception.”

In a city that attracts so many tourists, many whom come to our city to emerse themselves in a generally unchecked patriotic lore of our nation’s founding, I find work like this incredibly valuable to have in Philly’s public space. In fact, I’d really like to see more installations like this around Independence Mall itself, but this location at 15th and Race Streets is also a super busy area with many travelers passing it daily commuting from I-676 into Center City. I hope folks see it and want to learn more about it and its creators, because it’s an important thing that we constantly reflect our full history to connect the dots of power and oppression today and work to build a more equitable future. And artworks like this in our shared spaces can play a role in igniting that.

One Comment leave one →
  1. October 25, 2021 8:15 am

    I don’t understand this. The Declaration is the aspirational document. The contradiction is exactly from context, not redaction. Redaction would be more appropriate for a normative document like the Constitution–especially since the 3/5ths compromise is located there–not in the Declaration. Also, the 3/5ths compromise is woefully misunderstood in its mechanics. Counting blacks as 3/5ths instead of 0 gave southern states more representation in Congress, which is generally a bad thing. It would have been far better morally to count blacks as 0 people in this case or even better count free blacks only, thus incentivizing liberation. It is also not very logical to use that provision as a claim for lasting racism. It did not last 250 years, but very clearly less than 100 because it was repealed by the Civil War Amendments.

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