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 Moliga
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 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.
While we understand the Arnautoff’s intent to educate others on the horrific injustices of colonialism, we also acknowledge that his message is from an era when people of color held the limited freedom to vocalize their own stories. For too long, the history of our country has been told by white men. Furthermore, the history of people of color, as told by white men, has only reflected oppression and genocide; whether be it to proclaim their superiority or to assuage white guilt. While we do not seek to erase history, we believe that people of color, especially youth, have the right to see images that reflect their successes and contributions to our great nation, not be forced to relive centuries of trauma inflicted upon their ancestors. This story should no longer be one for the muralist to tell.
Furthermore, regardless of the artist’s beliefs, we do not feel that the location is an objective space for a message of protest to have the impact that he intended. The school is named to pay homage to President, George Washington and includes a number of tributary attributes to his legacy; all of which only serve to negate Arnautoff’s message. Therefore, the “Life of Washington Murals” are not serving their purpose to educate.
Therefore, we ask that you accept the recommendations of the Reflection and Action Committee.
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 1930’s 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 1970’s 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:
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.