Sanford: Is the removal of murals sensible or censorship?

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — From the 1920s through the early '50s, most entertainment in Memphis was at the mercy of a guy named Lloyd T. Binford, the chairman of the city's Board of Censors. Binford banned scores of movies from being shown in Memphis simply because he personally found them distasteful and even refused to allow the staging of plays featuring a racially diverse cast.

In the 1970s, an over-jealous federal prosecutor pressed obscenity charges against the makers of X-rated films. Roughly a decade later, city leaders tried to shut down topless nightclubs with an anti-nudity ordinance that was later ruled unconstitutional.

So here we are in 2018, and city officials are again taking heat for removing public art that council members don't like.

The council voted 10 to zero on Tuesday to remove six murals that were created through an initiative known as Paint Memphis. Council members deemed the murals offensive to many residents a week after city crews painted over seven other murals by mistake.

Now the question has become is this sensible or censorship?

I am certainly not equating the current council with Lloyd Binford or our crusading prosecutor from the past, but public art can often be uncomfortable. The key is finding a balance without anger but with respect for community standards and free speech. Unfortunately, that is not happening at the moment in Memphis.