Yes, Washington High School’s Mural is Offensive. Here’s Why Some Want It Saved.

More than 500 academics have signed an open letter urging the San Francisco Board of Education to reverse its decision to destroy an 83-year-old mural at George Washington High School.

The artwork, which is 1,600 square feet and spans 13 panels, depicts the life of America's first president — but not in a positive light. Slaves are seen picking cotton at his Mount Vernon estate while a settler overruns a Native American who has fallen to the ground.

Those who want the artwork gone say its depictions of people of color are demeaning and painful for students to see. But that’s exactly the point, according to those who want it salvaged. They say the artist — a communist Russian-American named Victor Arnautoff — was critiquing American society and its founding at a time when U.S. history was generally viewed and taught through a Pollyannaish lens.

“One cannot teach history, American history or world history, without confronting violence and trauma," said Rachael Z. DeLue, professor of art history and American studies at Princeton University (USA Today). “But that doesn't mean that students have to be bombarded with it. So the solution, I think, would involve acknowledging the right of a Native American or African American student to be upset by it."

Others have suggested adding historical context to the mural with the addition of words or adding blinds that would allow it to be covered but intact.

The mural was ordered to be painted over by a unanimous vote on June 25. The controversy comes amid a national debate over statues and place names that harken back to the period of slavery and segregation in the United States.


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