One high school is mulling over the idea of removing two 83-year-old murals featuring George Washington from its hallways because critics of the images believe they are offensive to African-Americans and Native Americans. Advocates for the removal of the murals say that the pair of images “traumatizes students and community members.”
The murals are in the halls of George Washington High School in the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD), according to a report by the Daily Wire.
“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,” said Laura Dudnick, a spokeswoman for the SFUSD.
“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.”
The two panels are part of a 13 panel mural series. The images have come under fire repeatedly since the 1960s based on their “controversial depictions of African-Americans and Native Americans,” according to the Richmond District Blog.
One mural – titled “Mount Vernon” – features George Washington in conversation with a Caucasian male who is gesturing toward a “seated African-American man holding corn, presumably a slave,” according to the blog.
Other parts of that mural show African-Americans completing various labor activities.
“Westward Vision,” the second mural that is under fire, shows founding fathers, including Benjamin Franklin, looking toward George Washington “as he points off in the distance.” George Washington’s other hand is pointed at a map.
On the righthand side of the mural, frontiersman “stand over the dead body of a Native American man, signifying the genocide of Native American life and culture,” according to the blog.
The murals are the work of Victor Arnautoff, “a protégé of Diego Rivera and a communist,” according to the Daily Wire. They were completed in 1936.
Arnautoff’s intention was reportedly not to glorify George Washington but to encourage others to evaluate his legacy.
Fergus M. Bordewich, a historian, believes it is “a deeply wrongheaded habit to project today’s norms, values, ideals backwards in time to find our ancestors inevitably falling short.”
“It betrays a very troubling intolerance of art and the ambiguity of art and the aspirations of art,” he added. “It’s incredibly stupid if we try to erase history. It still happened, and you should argue about its meanings.”