SF school board rescinds vote to cover up Washington mural

Jun 23, 2022, 9:15 AM | Updated: 9:53 am

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The San Francisco school board has voted to rescind a previous decision to cover up a George Washington campus mural from the 1930s that critics say is racist and degrading in its depiction of Black and Native American people.

The board’s 4-3 vote Wednesday followed a court’s ruling in a lawsuit that the school board’s original decision violated state law, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Board members did not comment on their votes.

The mural was painted in 1936 at George Washington High School by Victor Arnautoff, one of the foremost muralists in the San Francisco area during the Depression.

In addition to depicting Washington as a soldier, surveyor and statesman, the 13-panel, 1,600-square-foot (149-square-meter) mural contains images of white pioneers standing over the body of a Native American and slaves working at Washington’s Mount Vernon estate in Virginia.

New Deal scholars have argued that Arnautoff, a Russian-born communist and social critic, critically depicts unsavory aspects of American history in his work. But some students have contended that the mural’s imagery is offensive and racist.

Supporters say it could play a role in educating people about America’s racist past and covering it up would be censoring art and history.

The school board voted in 2019 to paint over the mural, then decided to cover it up with curtains or panels. The George Washington High School Alumni Association filed a lawsuit, and a judge ruled last year that the board failed to conduct an environmental review and ordered the panel to set aside its decisions.

Wednesday’s vote means the mural must remain on view, but the board could decide in the future to conduct an environmental review and then decide what to do with the artwork, the Chronicle said.

On another matter, the school board voted to return to a merit-based system using test scores and grades for admission to Lowell High School, which is considered one of the highest-performing public high schools in the country.

In October 2020, the board adopted a lottery system for admissions amid controversy including allegations of racism in admissions and lack of diversity. The restored merit system will apply to freshmen entering the school in the fall of 2023.

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SF school board rescinds vote to cover up Washington mural