Danny Glover: Removing George Washington Mural ‘Akin to Book Burning’

US actor Danny Glover speaks to journalists on March 17, 2011 in Johannesburg on the eve of escorting, along with others prominent figures from the American anti-apartheid movement, Haiti's former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide come after seven years of exile in South Africa. The planned return of Aristide, 57, comes just …
ALEXANDER JOE/AFP/Getty Images

Actor Danny Glover is joining the growing chorus of prominent black activists who are opposed to covering a mural at George Washington High School in San Francisco, an artist and critic of the country’s Founding Fathers painted in 1936. Not because the artwork glorifies the first president of the United States but for the exact opposite reason — it reveals, according to Glover and other, America’s ugly past, including the truth about a man who owned slaves and battled Native Americans.

“Glover’s statement asking officials tasked with the decision on what to do with the mural is part of a debate that dates back decades. Glover said the mural should be used as a “teaching tool,” CBS and the Associated Press (AP) reported.

“As a Washington High graduate, I’ve spent my entire life fighting for freedom and the right of artistic expression,” Glover said in a statement. ” Whether it was being in the forefront to bring about the first Black Studies Department in the country at San Francisco State or being involved in films like The Color Purple and most recently the Last Black Man in San Francisco, my record is clear and unambiguous.”

The Lethal Weapon star said as a student he viewed the mural as “a reminder of the horrors of human bondage.”

“I am for freedom of expression and against artistic censorship,” Glover said. “I view (Victor) Arnautoff’s murals, as they were for me, a reminder of the horrors of human bondage and the mistreatment of native peoples, even by the father of our country. To destroy them or block them from view would be akin to book burning. We would be missing the opportunity for enhanced historic introspection this moment has provided us.”

But the motivation behind the mural Arnautoff created is not part of Glover’s remarks. The artist was a communist and outspoken about his disdain for America’s founders, CBS and AP reported:

The controversial mural entitled “The Life of Washington” was painted by Arnautoff, one of the foremost muralists in the San Francisco area during the Depression.

In addition to depicting President George Washington as a soldier, surveyor and statesman, the 13-panel, 1,600-square-foot (149-square-meter) mural contain images of white pioneers standing over the body of a Native American and slaves working at Washington’s Mount Vernon estate in Virginia.

Over the years, many students have found it offensive. In June, the school board voted unanimously to have it painted over.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported on others opposed to the mural’s removal, including the NAACP, at a press conference held earlier this month.

The Rev. Arnold Townsend of the Northern California NAACP said it would amount to “whitewashing history to make it reflect a history that never existed.”

Dewey Crumpler, an artist who was chosen in the mid-1960s to create an alternative mural that “depicts African American, Latino and Asian Americans struggling against oppression,” said it accurately depicts Washington.

“These murals created in the ‘30s critiqued the man who was believed to be the truth-teller of America,” Crumpler said.

The New York Times  weighed in on the debate in an article published in April and praised the artist and his mural:

Arnautoff, who was born in Russia and taught at Stanford, was a Communist who embedded messages critical of the founding father in his murals. He depicted Washington, accurately, at a time when that was rarely acknowledged, as a slave owner and the leader of the nation that annihilated Native Americans. There are no cherry trees.

For now, the mural remains in place.

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