Posted on July 1, 2019

San Francisco School Board Votes to Destroy Controversial Washington High Mural

Jill Tucker, San Francisco Chronicle, June 26, 2019

The San Francisco school board unanimously voted Tuesday to destroy a controversial school mural featuring slaves and a dead Native American, saying the removal equates to necessary reparations for historic wrongs.

The board voted to paint over the mural at Washington High School but added a caveat, leaving the door open to the possibility of obscuring the mural with panels if painting it results in long delays from legal challenges or other issues.

The preference, however, is to destroy it, board members said.

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Painting over the mural would cost at least $600,000, with the majority of the cost in producing an environmental impact report. In addition, supporters of the mural have vowed to sue if the board voted to destroy it and legal costs could add to the cost, district officials said.

Other options included covering the mural with panels, which would cost up to $825,000, or obscuring it with curtains, which would have cost up to $375,000.

“I don’t want to go to court,” said board member Faauga Moliga, prior to the vote. “But if it comes down to it, then that’s what we have to do. I would like for these murals to be painted down.”

Dozens of passionate mural supporters and critics crowded the board meeting room Tuesday night to urge the board to save, or alternately, destroy the mural. They carried signs and wore t-shirts expressing their view.

“Censorship is to art as lynching is to justice,” read one sign, quoting Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

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Supporters argued the historic work, painted by Russian emigre Victor Arnautoff, is an important piece of art that is actually critical of oppression and imperialism and that destroying it or covering it equates to book burning.

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The mural, several said, made students feel unsafe and glorified violence.

[Editor’s Note: AR carried this story—when the students were just asking for it to be removed or hidden—here. Panels from “The Life of Washington” with commentary are available here.]