The San Francisco school board Tuesday night voted to reverse course on an earlier decision to remove a mural that shows founding father George Washington owning slaves and beginning the conquest of Native Americans.
By a 4-3 vote, lawmakers approved a compromise plan by board president Stevon Cook to save the mural at George Washington High School from destruction and instead have it covered up.
The divisive mural will be covered with panels that showcase “the heroism of people of color in America, how we have fought against, and continue to battle discrimination, racism, hatred and poverty,” Cook said.
Before the meeting, actor, civil rights activist and Washington HS alum Danny Glover implored board members to keep the “Life of Washington” mural. He said the best art is made to make people “uncomfortable” and remind all of what still needs to be accomplished.
“You have to feel uncomfortable to sense what the past is and how the past is connected to the future, the present and the future,” Glover said.
The 13-panel, 1,600-square work shows Washington at various points in his life, with images of slaves working at his Mount Vernon home and a dead Native American killed in America’s westward expansion.
The artwork, painted in 1935 by Russian immigrant Victor Arnautoff, was intended as a harsh critique of Washington’s legacy as America’s first president.
But critics of the work said the mural was a grim reminder to students, particularly those from minority communities, of the racism they still face.