It was inevitable that somewhere in America progressives would eventually decide that George Washington, the father of our country, does not represent the values of this nation.
While it’s of no surprise that the effort originated in a San Francisco school district, the efforts there to have a mural of George Washington removed from a high school — in part because the artwork represents “white supremacy” — is being met with a challenge from an alumni group.
A group of students and teachers at George Washington High School called for the removal of the mural because its offensive and demeaning to Native Americans and African-Americans, according to the Richmond District Blog — the group said the mural “traumatizes students and community members.”
But the George Washington High School Alumni Association started a petition to save the mural painted in 1936 by Victor Arnautoff, a Russian-American painter.
The “Life of Washington” mural consists of 13 panels, and the petition said that they were “unusually progressive for their time” and can be a “catalyst for discussing the sins of America’s founding.”
The petition reads:
I ask the San Francisco Board of Education Superintendent and Commissioners to reject the proposal to paint out or dismantle the Victor Arnautoff “Life of Washington” murals in George Washington High School, a priceless example of WPA art painted by a left-wing artist and unusually progressive for their time. The murals include forthright depictions of the injustices experienced by Native Americans and African-Americans during Washington’s lifetime. With implementation of one or more of the solutions proposed by the Alumni Association to sensitively address the concerns raised, the murals can be a catalyst for discussing the sins committed as our country was founded.
“If they vote to remove the mural, we’ll mount a legal challenge,” Lope Yap Jr., vice president of George Washington’s alumni association, told TheFrisc.com.
Two of the 13 panels are of concern, one shows Washington motioning toward some frontiersmen who are passing by a body of an apparently dead Native American, and another shows Washington next to black men, presumed to be slaves, working.
The San Francisco Unified School District created a “Reflection and Action Group” in 2018 to come up with a decision on what to do with the murals — Yap was part of the group.
The 13 member working group ultimately recommended the entire 13-panel mural should be removed from the school.
“We come to these recommendations due to the continued historical and current trauma of Native Americans and African Americans with these depictions in the mural that glorifies slavery, genocide, colonization, manifest destiny, white supremacy, oppression, etc.,” the group said. “This mural doesn’t represent SFUSD values of social justice, diversity, united, student-centered.”
Historian Fergus M. Bordewich wrote an ope-ed in the Wall Street Journal that said the district should consider the intention of the artist before deciding what to do with the mural, according to the National Review.
“The mural’s painter, Victor Arnautoff, was a protégé of Diego Rivera and a Communist. He included those images not to glorify Washington, but rather to provoke a nuanced evaluation of his legacy,” he wrote. “The scene with the dead Native American, for instance, calls attention to the price of ‘manifest destiny.’”
The irony here is that in 2010, officials were actively working on restoring these very murals.
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