San Francisco, CA – A series of 83-year-old frescoes on the walls of George Washington High School will be either covered or destroyed due to allegations that they are racist.
The 13-panel mural was created in 1936 by left-leaning artist Victor Arnautoff, who later went on to join the Communist Party, The Washington Times reported.
Arnautoff created the mural in an attempt to depict an accurate description of George Washington’s life – including dark images of slavery and slain Native Americans.
One of the panels depicts white settlers stepping over the body of a dead Native American, while another shows slaves working in a field.
“It’s a lot of emotional stress,” George Washington High School senior Kai Anderson-Lawson told KNTV.
“One of the reasons it’s hard to go to school sometimes is because of the mural in the lobby,” Anderson-Lawson added. “I think they should try to, like, put healthy images on there.”
“The mural tells us about the conquest and colonization of the United States including the genocide of native Americans,” Raoul Gonzales said during the school board meeting on June 18, according to KTVU. “The mural reminds us that this nation is born of blood and gore.”
Alliance of Black School Educators member Virginia Marshall said that the paintings need to be removed.
“It is a racist mural,” Marshall said. “My history should not be racist but it is. I came from slaves.”
“Why do we have to explain the pain caused by visual offense that we see in that building that is supposed to be an institution of learning?” mural opponent Mary Travis-Allen asked the school board.
Donna Parker said that the artwork should be used as a learning tool.
“We should be teaching about the mural and what it means. I’m half native American. I have no problem with the mural,” Parker said. “It depicts what happened.”
Socialist Workers Party Mayoral Candidate Joel Britton argued that removing the fresco could open the door to unbridled censorship.
“Destroying or covering it would be an act of censorship and a blow to freedom of expression that would set a precedent for further such actions,” Britton said, according to San Francisco Weekly. “Censorship creates precedents that will always come down hardest on the working class, including African American, Latinos, Native American, and Asian American working people.”
None of the school board members spoke up in favor of keeping the mural on display.
“My question is who needs to remember it? I don’t need to be reminded. It’s in your face all the time,” school board member Alison Collins said. “White supremacy culture is when folks are more concerned about the life of Washington murals than they are about Native American and Black lives.”
The board is now trying to determine whether to destroy the mural or to cover it, KTVU reported.
School officials claimed it would cost between $375,000 and $825,000 cover or paint over the 83-year-old fresco because of costs associated with environmental impact reports, as well as materials and labor.
“We want to respect its age and comply with all the regulations associated with it,” San Francisco Unified School Board President Stevon Cook told KTVU. “It would take some time and funds to figure out the best way to go about each of the options.”
The board is expected to decide the fresco’s fate on Tuesday.