A mural depicting George Washington at a San Francisco school will be painted over — at a cost of $600,000 — because parts of the work are offensive to some members of the community, National Interest reports.
The decision was made last month but is only now gaining attention in the national media.
Back in 1936, as part of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal” program poured federal funds into various projects in order to get out-of-work people back to work, all of which was to help turn around the Great Depression. For such a project, a mural was to be painted at San Francisco’s George Washington High School.
And so it was that Russian-American artist Victor Arnautoff created the giant, 13-panel mural, depicting scenes from Washington’s life. The work has been displayed at the school for eight decades.
However, two of those scenes have caused controversy of late. One depicts Washington standing over the corpse of a Native American. Early in his career, Washington fought alongside Native Americans in the French-Indian war, but later in his life, he directed men under his command to kill Native Americans and level their settlements, as Indian Country Today reported in 2013.
Another controversy aspect of the mural depicts Washington in the company of his slaves. Washington, like Thomas Jefferson and other founding fathers, owned slaves.
BREAKING: Officials in San Francisco have voted to destroy this offensive mural of George Washington directing “pioneers” to go west as they walk over a dead Native American at George Washington High School in San Francisco. Wonderful news! pic.twitter.com/LVE3PGMgwC
— Brett Chapman (@brettachapman) June 26, 2019
The remaining 11 panels are mundane and not the subject of controversy.
Because of those two panels, San Francisco has decided that the entire mural must go.
Officials struggled over what to do with the mural, as KQED-TV reports.
One suggestion was painting over, or perhaps covering, the controversial panels in the mural. Instead, the School Board decided that the entire mural must be painted over, at a cost of $600,000. This task could take more than a year to complete. The desire to cover panels is so pressing that the Board has even suggested temporarily covering the offending panels while the work to paint over the mural is completed.
Education Board Commissioner Mark Sanchez defended the half-a-million-dollar price tag, saying, “this is reparations,” referring to the matter of financial reparations for slavery, an issue that has recently been discussed in Washington, D.C.
Paloma Flores, program coordinator for the school district’s Indian Education Program, admits that the scenes depict a part of history that, though uncomfortable, are still history. However, she says that their presence creates a “hostile environment” for learning for the school’s black and Native American students.
Lope Yap Jr., vice president of the high school’s alumni association, has promised to sue to stop the mural from being covered with paint.