US school to hide, not destroy Washington mural depicting slaves and dead Native American

A portrait of George Washington (1796) by Gilbert Stuart. / Free

A George Washington mural considered offensive to some minorities, at a San Francisco school, will not be painted over, the local school board voted. It will be hidden under panels about the “heroism of people of color” instead.

Among other things, the mural – a series of 13 frescoes titled ‘The Life of Washington’ – depicts slavery and white settlers standing over a dead Native American.

It was painted in 1936 by Russian émigré artist Victor Arnautoff and was actually intended to be critical of Washington’s legacy as America’s first president.

In June, the city’s school board voted to paint over the mural. The decision prompted a backlash as critics said that destroying a historical work of art is akin to censorship. Following fierce debate, the school board convened again on Tuesday, deciding by a 4-3 vote to cover the mural over with panels indefinitely, instead of destroying it. According to the board, the new panels will show “the heroism of people of color in America” and their struggle against “discrimination, racism, hatred, and poverty.”

“I think we all agree that the mural depicts a history of the country that’s hard to see,” school board President Stevon Cook said before the vote.

The ongoing re-evaluation of historical figures in the US remains a point of contention, with a surge in calls to remove from public spaces references to people some associate with racism, colonialism, and slavery. Dozens of statues of Confederate figures have been removed in recent years.

There have also been calls by activists to remove statues of the Founding Fathers, like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, because they owned slaves and tolerated racism. Opponents say the statues should remain in place, serving as reminders of the tragic and uncomfortable moments of history.

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