‘It’s also about reclaiming our time’: California school will cover up mural depicting slaves and dead Native Americans

"It's also about reclaiming our time, reclaiming our space. It's about black and indigenous people ... it's a form of reparations."

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A San Francisco high school has agreed to cover up an 83-year-old mural depicting slavery and dead Native Americans.

Commissioned by the US Government in 1936 and painted by a left-wing critic of American history, the mural depicts George Washington as a complicit figure in the enslavement of colored people.

Starting in the 1960s during the Civil Rights Movement, parents and students began calling for the mural’s removal from George Washington High School in San Francisco. In order to preserve the mural but quell the outrage, the District hired a black artist to paint a “response mural.”

Last year Amy Anderson, a Native American woman whose son attends the school, and indigenous activist Mariposa Villaluna drafted a resolution to send to the school board. Thus the Reflection and Action Committee was created, which recommended that the mural be painted over before the 2019 school year.

Last week, during a school board meeting, it was decided that the mural will be removed from public view either using solid panels or equivalent material.

There are many critics that do not agree with the district’s decision, however. Advocates for preserving the mural argue that the art is a critique of the time period and must be considered in its historical and social contexts. They have asked that the school district take additional measures to preserve the art while educating students about its historical significance.

Over 500 artists, art historians and academics even signed an open letter asking that the mural be protected, proclaiming “The only viewers who should feel unsafe before this mural are racists.”

The only member of the committee to vote for keeping the mural, Lope Yap Jr., vice president of George Washington’s alumni association, says that a vote to remove the mural will spur him and his group to “mount a legal challenge.”

“I can see adding curriculum, adding plaques, I can see covering them — and if we’re going to do that, why not paint positive images on the fabric or curtain?” said Yap Jr. “Then when you open it up, you would see the dark part of history.”

Still, Anderson and Villaluna praised the decision to cover up the mural. “It’s also about reclaiming our time, reclaiming our space. It’s about black and indigenous people … it’s a form of reparations,” said Villaluna.

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Alexandra Jacobo
Alexandra Jacobo is a progressive writer, activist, and mother who began her political involvement in earnest passing out blankets to occupiers in Zuccotti Park in 2011. She is concerned with educating the public and inspiring them to take action on progressive issues that promote positive change at home and abroad.

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