San Francisco School Board Votes to Cover George Washington Mural

A school board in San Francisco has unanimously voted to cover several murals at a high school because of its images of slavery and an image depicting a dead Native American. On June 25, the San Francisco school board voted to cover the 13-panel mural at George Washington High School, which was painted in 1936 by artist Victor Arnatouff, The Washington Post reported.

The mural, which is titled the “Life of Washington,” depicts the sale of enslaved people and elsewhere shows enslaved people laboring at George Washington’s home, The Los Angeles Times reported. There is also a body of a dead Native American surrounded by white settlers, with Washington pointing to the white men, according to the publication. The school board’s vice president, Mark Sanchez, told The Washington Post that the mural is “degrading.”“It’s always an issue when anyone wants to remove or cover or displace art,” Sanchez told the publication. “But there are countervailing issues we had to look at as well. We believe students shouldn’t be exposed to violent imagery — that it’s degrading.”

Paloma Flores, who is the program coordinator for the San Francisco Unified School District’s Indian Education Program, told KQED that she opposed the mural.

“It’s not a matter of offense, it’s a matter of the right to learn without a hostile environment,” Flores told the news station. “Intent does not negate lived experience.”

A spokesperson for the San Francisco Unified School District told the Los Angeles Times that the mural will either be painted over or covered with solid panels. The spokesperson said the district’s staff is researching how long it would take to paint over the mural, the publication reported. It could cost up to $600,000 to paint over the murals, KQED reported.Despite the cost, some believe covering up the mural is worth it. Arianna Antone-Ramirez, who is part of the Tohono O’odham tribe and a graduate of the district’s Galileo Academy of Science and Technology High School told the Los Angeles Times that students don’t need to pass the mural every time they enter school.

“Our students deserve better. We don’t need to see ourselves portrayed as dead Indians every single time we see ourselves portrayed in any type of art or in any books. We don’t need that,” Antone-Ramirez told the publication. “We know our history already — our students don’t need to see it every single time they walk into a public school.”The North Star has reached out to the school board for comment about the decision but did not hear back in time for publication.

Despite the calls for the mural to be removed, a petition is circulating on Change.org that is trying to preserve the mural painted by the Russian-born artist. The petition states that the artist’s mural “was practicing a commitment to social justice and he was certainly not glorifying slavery, genocide, colonization, manifest destiny, or white supremacy.” The petition as of July 3 has 2,049 signatures.“Arnautoff created the murals to protest both the genocide of Native Americans as well as slavery and oppression of African Americans at a time when few openly discussed these aspects of American history. High school curricula in the United States, even today, neglect the history of Native Americans and First Peoples,” the petition read. “As such, the mural should serve as a critical educational tool and destroying or removing it only serves to promote an inaccurate perspective of the artist and his work.”

“There are several workable options that have been suggested to keep the mural intact and to allow faculty to use it to support their teaching,” the petition continued. “Erasing this work of art will not serve the interests of the students at George Washington High School and will divide the community.”

In April, Mame-Fatou Niang, an associate professor at Carnegie Mellon University and French novelist Julien Suaudeau created a petition on Change.org to remove the racist mural painted at the Palais Bourbon in France that depicted two Africans with exaggerated facial features. In their petition, Niang and Suaudeau called the mural “a humiliating and dehumanizing insult to the millions of victims of slavery and to all their descendants.”


About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in the various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.