Fant Smith, a Vanderbilt fan from Murfreesboro who commissioned the $2,500 painting of Mason with fellow fan Craig Savage of Atlanta, said Monday that local muralist Michael Cooper will make alterations to his work.
The subject of the mural first came up at a Vanderbilt NAACP event on "blacks in the media" that took place days after the completion of the painting Feb. 18.
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"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," said Akailah Harris, 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."
Cooper believes that the whole thing is a misunderstanding rooted in the photograph that he was given to complete the project. He believes his painting is an accurate depiction of that photograph.
"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."
The artist said the lighting in the photograph created a much darker setting than others he has since seen of Mason.
"I would sign the petition based just on that difference," he said. "But that is not what was sent to me and that's not what I painted ...
"Everybody during the entire process was incredibly supportive, and everybody was very pleased as far as what was painted, so this all just comes as a surprise."
Said Harris: "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."