• Keyden Smith-Herold

The San Francisco School Board Is Wrong to Paint over the George Washington Mural

A portion of “The Life of Washington” by Victor Arnautoff | Photo: Dick Evans

Recently, a San Francisco school board voted to spend $600,000 to paint over a historical mural portraying our nation’s first president. Some students, faculty, and visitors to George Washington High School deemed the mural “racist”, “offensive”, and “degrading” to ‘people of color’ and Native Americans.

“The Life of Washington” was painted by Victor Arnautoff over 80 years ago, depicting historically accurate events which occurred at the time of our founders. The 1,600 square foot mural shows, among other images, white colonists stepping over dead Native Americans, and the brutality of slavery as an institution.

A portion of “The Life of Washington” by Victor Arnautoff | Photo: Dick Evans

The school of 2,000 is majority-minority, and many students have argued for the removal of the art for decades. The recent decision has sparked both condemnation and approbation across the country.

There were a few academic voices breaking with the crowd in the media. Princeton University Professor Rachael Z. DeLue stated that "if we cover it up and we whitewash it, not only are we doing a disservice to history, but we're also doing a disservice to those who suffered at the hands of European-descended Americans: slaves and Native Americans who were traumatized and killed."

Paul Von Blum, an African American studies professor at UCLA stated: “I know it causes students to cringe, but that's the function of art... art should never be censored."

Once again, we as Americans are bringing the conversation of censorship to the forefront of American culture and politics. Many will remember the same arguments made in favor of wrongly tearing down confederate statues just a few months ago.

For us to seriously debate removing confederate statues, or murals of historic accuracy shows how much the pendulum has swung in favor of political correctness.

It should be noted that this specific mural paints a critical picture of American history, and wrongly implies that the United States was founded on racism, not in spite of it. Even if the art didn’t hold this implication, the principle of not erasing history still rings true.

Give me one moral or political justification for removing the painting other than “it hurts my feelings”. You can’t. It’s impossible to run away from history. We must embrace our past and learn from it, regardless if it bothers you or not.

Censoring historical artifacts only sets the precedent of tearing down anything you personally disagree with. It will never end here— soon individuals will be tearing down pictures of presidents, world leaders, symbols, and whatever else anyone can muster because it ‘hurts our feelings’. This is excruciatingly dangerous for American culture.

Once again, America was founded in spite of racism, slavery, and oppression. We were able to outlaw the very practices some of our founders participated in due to the system of government they themselves created. The legal pathway to protesting our founders was created by them. This fact should prove that understanding history and what came before us is important.

Spare us the flawed argument of ‘putting it in a museum’. Even if this mural were able to be moved, history shouldn’t only be learned in a museum. Where better for students to learn history than a school? Teachers need to sit students down and explain to them what happened during the days of George Washington, and how we as a society were able to overcome such actions— heck, we fought a war over the issue.

History should never be censored. We need to learn from the good, the bad, and the ugly. If not, then as Churchhill stated paraphrasing the words of Santayana: “Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it”.


Keyden Smith-Herold is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Daily Analytical. Contact him: info@dailyanalytical.com