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School board reconsiders fate of ‘Life of Washington’ mural

The San Francisco Board of Education is considering reversing course on plans to paint over a controversial mural at George Washington High School.

Eye of Kiltron/Flickr George Washington High School in the Richmond District of San Francisco, Calif. is the site of the controversial 83-year-old mural, “Life of Washington,” which depicts aspects of racism in U.S. history.

Stevon Cook, San Francisco Board of Education president, addressed media prior to the board’s Tuesday night meeting and explained his decision to reconsider alternatives for the 83-year-old “Life of Washington” painting that occupies 16,000 square feet of the high school’s wall space.

Cook said:

“After hearing much more input from the public and a lot of sentiment around being upset on destroying the art, I decided to bring the item back. Essentially coming back to the initial recommendation of staff, which was to cover the mural instead of destroying it with paint.”

Jerold Chinn/SFBay San Francisco Board of Education President Stevon Cook speaks to the media at a press conference in San Francisc, Calif., on Tuesday, August 13, 2019, on changing his mind on painting over a controversial mural at George Washington High School.

Cook continued:

“I think we all agree that the mural depicts a history of the country that is hard to see and everyone agrees that history is racist. I think where we disagree is if it is appropriate for a school site.”

Any modifications would be subject to review under the California Environmental Quality Act, which could take over a year to complete. The public would have the chance to weigh in throughout the CEQA process, Cook said.

Much of the argument has been focused on portions of the painting that depict America’s brutal history with Native Americans and slavery. Although some applauded the board’s June decision to paint over the mural, some critics do not believe it should be hidden or destroyed.

Jerold Chinn/SFBay Actor Danny Glover, center, speaks against the removal and covering of a controversial mural at George Washington High School at a press conference in San Francisco, Calif., on Tuesday, August 13, 2019.

Actor Danny Glover, a George Washington High School graduate, spoke out Tuesday and said he was not in favor of painting over or covering up the mural because it depicts truth behind U.S. history.

“Why board it up? Why can’t we tell the truth? How come the truth has to be put away?”

Glover equated the destruction of the mural to “book burning.” He said:

“The fact is art has to make us feel uncomfortable. That’s what art does.”

This story is developing and updates will be provided following the board’s final decision.

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