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Painting over Historic Mural
News Bytes 07/8/2019 13 Comments

San Francisco plans to paint over a historic mural at a public school. The artwork depicts the life of President George Washington. When the painting was new, people saw it as educational. Now they criticize it as degrading for how it portrays black and Native American people.

George Washington High School has about 2,000 students. Nearly all are people of color, and many come from low-income families. As early as the 1960s, some students called the mural offensive and racist. Recently, new protests have emerged.

Leading San Francisco muralist Victor Arnautoff painted the “Life of Washington” in 1936. The 13-panel, 1,600-square foot mural at George Washington High School depicts the first U.S. president as a soldier, surveyor, and statesman. It contains images of white pioneers standing over the body of a Native American and slaves working at Washington’s Mount Vernon estate.

The school board’s decision comes at a time when the importance of Washington and other historical figures who owned slaves are being re-examined. Some cities have changed the names of streets and buildings named after slaveowners.

Mark Sanchez, vice president of the school board and a third-grade teacher, says students who walk past the mural don’t have a choice about seeing the images. “Painting it over represents not only a symbolic fresh start, but a real fresh start,” he says.

Lope Yap, Jr., vice president of the Washington High School Alumni Association, disagrees. He says when he was a student and saw the mural he was “awed by the subtle ways Arnautoff was able to critique American history.” He believes the mural is a treasure, priceless art, and painting it over is like pretending the history never happened.

“I’m not into censorship,” Yap says. “I would want to deal with history so we can prevent this from ever happening again.”

The decision to paint over the mural prompts some to worry: Could other artwork face a similar end?

Censorship (banning art, books, news, etc., that someone believes is illegal, immoral, or dangerous) is tricky. Deciding to censor one person opens the door for censoring everyone. On the other hand, there are images and words that should be off limits. What do you think the San Francisco school board should do about the mural?

(Students walk past a historic mural at George Washington High School in San Francisco. Yalonda M. James/San Francisco Chronicle via AP)

 

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Most recent comments

First Comment!

They should leave the mural!! They may not agree with all that is portrayed in the mural( I don't agree with slavery either) but they can't change history so they might as well keep teaching what really happened and also how to not let that happen again. A lot of very important lessons can be learned by studying history.

Brenna

I agree with you!

I totally agree, Beth G. I

I totally agree, Beth G. I mean, as I have mentioned in previous comments, I have a bit of Native American (Cherokee) in me, and I still think they should keep the mural up! I hope that there is an update on this when a decision is made.

I are so right Beth G. Lena P

I are so right Beth G. Lena P, I have a little bit of Cherokee blood in me too.

@ Emelia G.

Cool!

What!?

NO! Keep the mural!! it was not made as a racist mural! You can't change history!!

@ Beth or Sarah

History

History is important, even though a lot of it isn't so nice.
I would never support somebody who intended to erase or rewrite history, but there is a big difference between remembering the past and glorifying the past. for example, the holocaust was a terrible point in history, and I think it's very important that we remember it and the people who were affected by it. However, I don't think a mural depicting auschwitz would be suitable for a public school or train station. The San Francisco mural is definitely a less intense example, but the same principle holds true. We shouldn't forget this time period, and we should offer education about it, but that doesn't mean it should be displayed in a way that arguably glorifies the bad about it. Even if you disagree, I hope this provides some insight about the opposing viewpoint. These people are not trying to erase history, they are just trying to display it in a more appropriate way.

@Zack W

"The school board’s decision comes at a time when the importance of Washington and other historical figures who owned slaves are being re-examined." Even though Washington owned slaves he is extremely important in our country's past( he led the army that won the war!! and he was the first president!! and even if he did own slaves he still didn't want to be king!!!!) and we should never forget him.

@ Beth and Zack

What worries me is that, as the WORLDteen article pointed out, if this mural gets painted over, then other artwork could also get destroyed. There are both good and bad aspects to pretty much every solution that they could come up with.

Re-Do It!!!

At least put up a new "politically correct" version!

August A

But than it wouldn't be historic!

@August A

In history a lot of not politicly correct things happened and some of those things still happen today.

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