Back in June a San Francisco school board kicked up controversy when it voted to remove an historical painting of George Washington from a local high school named after America’s first president.
The painting – “Life of George Washington” by Russian-American artist Victor Arnautoff – depicts the life journey of George Washington, including scenes of him interacting with slaves and battling Indigenous tribes.
The Sacramento Bee reports that the school board voted 4-3 to change the decision.
The San Francisco school board voted Tuesday to preserve but cover up a public high school mural depicting slavery and the killing of a Native American.
After a public outcry, the board voted 4-3 to reverse its June vote to paint over the “Life of Washington” mural at George Washington High School. Instead, staff were directed to work out alternatives to cover the mural with panels or other materials depicting “the heroism of people of color in America” and their fight against racism and poverty, said board President Stevon Cook, who made the proposal.
“We are not going to paint over public art,” he said. “We’re going to find another way to keep it from public view.”
Keeping art from public view sounds frighteningly Orwellian. It is understandable that in a state that has all but given up teaching comprehensive American history that some would feel uncomfortable at such a mural being viewed by students. However, America’s history isn’t some Utopian fantasy where “people of color” (ahem..you mean Black and Indigenous people) have led prosperous and successful lives free of oppression and prejudice. Our history is amazing and unique but also complicated and ugly. A school, of all places should be a place where people can view that history honestly, and react accordingly. It does our children no favors – particularly minority children – to literally cover up the icky parts of our nation’s story.
Not everyone agrees with the Board’s decision to cover the mural despite its depictions.
“I hope that this board would leave that mural alone. It tells the whole truth about Mr. Washington’s being complicit in the slave trade,” said the Rev. Amos Brown, president of the San Francisco branch of the NAACP.
“Art has to make us feel uncomfortable,” actor Danny Glover, a Washington High graduate, told reporters before the meeting. “That’s what art does.”