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High School May Remove George Washington Mural that 'Traumatizes Students and Community Members'

05-03-2019
President George Washington (Painting by Gilbert Stuart: Public Domain)

A mural depicting the "Life of Washington" on the walls of George Washington High School in San Francisco may be removed, following the recommendation of a working group.

The San Francisco Unified School District may take down the 13-panel mural because of concerns it offends and demeans Native Americans and African Americans.

"SFUSD convened a 'Reflection and Action Working Group' that was comprised of members of the local Native American community, students, school representatives, district representatives, local artists and historians," a spokeswoman for the district, Laura Dudnick, told The College Fix.

The group, which met in recent months, decided the mural "traumatizes students and community members."

"At its conclusion the group voted and the majority recommended that the 'Life of Washington' mural be archived and removed because the mural does not represent SFUSD values," Dudnick continued.

Victor Arnautoff, a Russian American painter and professor of art, helped paint the mural 83 years ago, according to the Richmond District Blog. The Richmond District is a neighborhood of San Francisco. The Works Progress Administration funded the project as part of the New Deal.

Advocates who want to keep the mural on the walls say the recommendation by the working group ignores the artist's intention and is an effort to erase history.

Historian Fergus M. Bordewich wrote in the The Wall Street Journal, "A San Francisco mural has become the latest high-profile target of self-appointed censors who want to erase both history and art of which they disapprove."

"The mural's painter, Victor Arnautoff, was a protégé of Diego Rivera and a communist," Bordewich wrote. "He included those images not to glorify Washington, but rather to provoke a nuanced evaluation of his legacy."

Bordewich also issued a statement to CBN News about the mural:

"The activists and bureaucrats who are determined to remove or destroy an artistically superb and historically accurate set of 1930s murals presenting the life of George Washington are guilty not only of embracing willful censorship but they are also astonishingly ignorant of the history they want to suppress. The claim that the murals somehow celebrate African-American slavery and the genocide of Native Americans is absurd. In his will, Washington freed every slave he owned and provided for them financially. And he advocated an exceptionally enlightened policy toward native tribes. The artist also, by the way, presented enslaved people and Native Americans not in any degraded or demeaning way but as people of both strength and dignity. There's nothing wrong with debating the meaning of our national history, but those who challenge it ought to at least get their facts right."

Bordewich told The Fix there "is a deeply wrongheaded habit to project today's norms, values, ideals backwards in time to find our ancestors inevitably falling short."

Dudnick says the mural could stay on the walls of George Washington High School, however. She said the superintendent and staff are now looking over the working group's recommendation and considering what should be done with the artwork.

CBN News reached out to the San Francisco Unified School District for comment. At the time of publication, the district had not yet responded to our inquiry.

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