April 29, 2019
To: The San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education:
President Stevon Cook, Vice President Mark Sanchez, Commissioner Alison M. Collins, Commissioner Jenny Lam, Commissioner Gabriela López, Commissioner Faauuga Molina, Commissioner Rachel Norton, Superintendent Dr. Vincent Matthews
Re: The Victor Arnautoff Murals at George Washington High School
Dear Esteemed Commissioners,On behalf of the Richmond District Democratic Club, we write to inform you that at our most recent General Meeting, our members overwhelmingly voted on a resolution in support of the Reflection and Action Committee’s recommendations regarding the Victor Arnautoff Mural series “Life of Washington” at George Washington High School.
As residents of the Richmond District, we know that both our demographics and our country’s shared values around historic narratives are rapidly changing. Therefore, we believe that community discussion around the “Life of Washington” murals is not only timely, but well overdue.
Peter Lauterborn, President
Wendy Aragon, Vice President
Resolution to Support the Recommendation of the Reflection and Action Committee Regarding the Victor Arnautoff Murals at George Washington High School
Whereas George Washington High School was built as part of the 1930s New Deal Program and George Washington High School is home to one of the largest collections of Works Progress Administration funded murals under the New Deal in the City and County of San Francisco, one of the murals in the building is titled “Life of George Washington” by Victor Arnautoff, and which consists of thirteen panels and totals 1600 square feet; and
Whereas in the 1970s members of the Black student body at George Washington objected to Arnautoff’s portrayal of the history of slavery in his murals; and therefore a new mural by Dr. Dewey Crumpler was commissioned for the adjacent hallway to represent the diversity of the school;
Whereas the SFUSD Indian Education Program Parent’s Advisory Committee has asked the San Francisco Board of Education to remove the racially insensitive murals at Washington High School;
Whereas San Francisco Unified School District Superintendent, Dr. Vincent Mathews, established the”Washington Mural Reflection and Action Group”to evaluate the murals and to make recommendations on a future course of action;
Whereas these four meetings served to educate the community and address the concerns of indigenous students, parents, and alumni at George Washington High School about the impact of Victor Arnautoff’s murals on both art history and the collective trauma of Indigenous communities in the United States; the Reflection and Action Committee established and approved the following recommendation by a majority vote on February 28, 2019:
- There shall be a digital archive of the “Life of Washington” mural.
- Paint white paint over the “Life of Washington” mural located in the lobby, of all panels.
- The aforementioned painting over of the “Life of Washington” mural should take place before the first day of the SFUSD 2019-2020 academic year.
- Create a school- and community-based committee to decide what new to put up on where the “Life of Washington” mural currently exists (or, if anything new should be put up.
Rationale: We come to these recommendations due to the continued historical and current trauma of Native American and African-Americans with these depictions in the mural that glorifies slavery, genocide, colonization, manifest destiny, white supremacy, oppression, etc. This mural doesn’t represent SFUSD values of social justice, diversity, united, student-centered. It’s not student-centered if it focuses on the legacy of the artists rather than the experience of the students. If we consider the SFUSD Equity Definition, the “low” mural glorifies oppression instead of eliminating it. It also perpetuates bias through stereotypes rather than ending bias. It has nothing to do with equity or inclusion at all. The impact of this mural is greater than what its intent ever was; it’s not counter narrative if it traumatizes students and community members.
Therefore, be it resolved that the Richmond District Democratic Club asks that the San Francisco Board of Education adopt the recommendation submitted by the SFUSD Reflection and Action Committee appointed to engage the community on conversations about the “Life of Washington” murals at George Washington High School.
Original Resolution submitted by Richard Rothman to the General Membership for a vote to adopt. Substitutions submitted by Brandee Marckmann to the General Membership for a vote to adopt. Adopted with Substitutions by a majority vote of the General Membership on April 25th, 2019.