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San Francisco liberals censor Life of George Washington and WPA art

Written By | Jul 5, 2019
Founders, History, Life of Washington, Slavery, abolition, America, America's History

Life of Washington

WASHINGTON: Censorship is the first step toward liberal tyranny.  First, liberals came for the Confederate Flag.  Then the statues of our Confederate leaders. Classic literature is being censored (10 Literary Classics That Have Been Banned).  Now,  like-minded liberal groups who defend Robert Mapplethorpe or Andres Serrano’s artistic images of the Christian Crucifix submerged in urine, want to destroy the Americana art of the 1940’s.

Victor Arnautoff is one of the foremost muralists in the San Francisco area during the Depression.  His work of art The Life of George Washington is from the “New Deal” era. Its erasure is just the next step in historical censorship designed to ignore, or rewrite, America’s history.

Unfortunately, this is not the first art attack.

Censorship of A Social History of Indiana

Indiana University’s Bloomington campus student petitions and organized protests in October of 2017 to remove painter Thomas Hart Benton’s 1933 mural “A Social History of Indiana.”

The mural contains images, though not front and center,  of the Ku Klux Klan.

Along with Grant Wood (of “American Gothic” fame), Thomas Hart Benton was one of the leaders of the Regionalist movement in American art.  The movement was to show the coastal states that areas of the South and Midwest, could be art subjects.

According to The misguided campaign to remove a Thomas Hart Benton muralAmerica Today” now hangs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  The mural is recognized as the first major American painting to focus on contemporary working-class Americans, in contrast to the other’s historical works, like the Washington mural in San Francisco whose focus is colonial military heroes.

What haters fail to recognize is that Benton continually denounced racism.

One of the very first articles he published, a 1924 essay in the journal “Arts,” contains a snide dismissal of the Klan.
In 1935, he took part in a widely publicized exhibition, “An Art Commentary on Lynching,” organized by the NAACP and staged at the Arthur Newton Gallery in New York; and in 1940 he explicitly denounced racism of any sort, declaring:
“We in this country put no stock in racial genius. We do not believe that because a man comes from one strain rather than another, he starts with superior equipment.”
“It is past time that Indiana University take a stand and denounce hate and intolerance in Indiana and on IU’s campus,” the petition read.

Of greatest concern are the images of KKK depicted in the mural. However, not being able to see the forest through the trees, haters of the mural fail to note that the painting also shows whites working with and caring or blacks.

Life of Washington, City Life, Censorship, Victor Arnautoff, Arnautoff, San Francisco,

Thomas Benton Mural

Earlier this year, Notre Dame decided that the story of Christopher Columbus was offensive.  Notre Dame the latest Catholic University to whitewash over history

CommDigiNews’ Paul Yarbrough writing:

Painted more than 130 years ago, twelve murals illustrate the arrival in the new world of Christopher Columbus.  To detractors, the murals were “blind to the consequences of Columbus’ voyage,” university President Rev. John Jenkins said in a letter Sunday announcing his decision.  Therefore, they must be hidden from sensitive eyes.
The murals were painted by Italian artist Luigi Gregori. Columbus’ voyage to America is chronicled in twelve paintings created in 1880 following the buildings reconstruction.  What makes this censoring difficult is that the murals are painted directly on the wall of the Main Building.  To remove them would mean destroying them.
Notre Dame, Columbus, Censorship, Victor Arnautoff

Painting: “Columbus Coming Ashore” at the University of Notre Dame, a Catholic research university located in Notre Dame, an unincorporated community north of the city of South Bend, in St. Joseph County, Indiana
Digital ID: (original digital file) highsm 18710
Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-highsm-18710 (original digital file)
Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

The movement to get the murals covered began in earnest in 2017, when more than 340 members of the school’s community signed a letter asking the university’s president Rev. John Jenkins to censor the murals.

Jenkins agreed.

“Whatever else Columbus’s arrival brought, for these peoples it led to exploitation, expropriation of land, repression of vibrant cultures, enslavement, and new diseases causing epidemics that killed millions,” Jenkins said of Columbus’s legacy, adding that the explorer’s arrival was a catastrophe for native people.
The march to destroy “New Deal”  WPA era art

The San Francisco School Board’s decision to paint over the 83-year-old mural Life of George Washington is creating concern over a movement to erase New Deal-era art.

Life of Washington is located in the lobby of San Francisco’s George Washington High School. The latest work under fire, the mural is part of the Work Progress Administration (WPA) art program.  President Roosevelt’s 1935 WPA employment and infrastructure program put roughly 8.5 million Americans to work. A hallmark of the program was the public works project that built America’s infrastructure – roads, bridges, interstates and more.

However, the WPA also employed tens of thousands of actors, musicians, writers, and other artists to depict America in songs, plays, and works of arts. The arts program, Federal Project Number One intent was to put artists back to work while “entertaining and inspiring the larger population by creating a hopeful view of life amidst the economic turmoil.”  First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt was behind the program, defending it against others, who then, like today, see the arts as a waste of money.

It is important to note that the WPA Federal Project Number One is the precursor to today’s National Foundation of the Arts.

The Life of Washington

Destroying the work of art not only whitewashes our history, good, bad and ugly, but it is further destruction to the history of Democrat President Roosevelt’s New Deal, a program designed to get America back to work. (The San Francisco Mural: When the Destroyers of Art Are Liberals).

Painted in 1935 by a Russian-born communist and social critic, Victor Arnautoff, one of the mural panels shows Washington with his slaves at Mount Vernon. Yet another depicts Washington pointing pioneers westward over the body of a dead Indian.  Some Native Americans are speaking out for destroying the art. While others are speaking out as to the importance of keeping the art.

Destruction is one serious option.

San Francisco will spend up to $600,000 to paint over historical artwork at a public school depicting the life of George Washington because of its depiction of black and Native American people. The mural is a fresco, which means it’s painted on the wall and will need to be painted over.  The board plans to digitally archive the mural. Most of the $600,000 earmarked for the project will go toward a required environmental review and cover expected legal challenges.


Life of Washington, City Life, Censorship, Victor Arnautoff, Arnautoff, San Francisco,

The Life of George Washington

In one section, George Washington appears to be in conversation with another Caucasian man. Also shown is an African-American man, presumably a slave. African-Americans are seen engaged in acts of manual labor. However white men are also laboring. Washington’s servant, who is pictured holding his horse, is also African-American.

The mural is a clear depiction of slavery in the United States, and of George Washington as a slave owner.  However what critics fail to mention that over the course of his life Washington grew to be against slavery.  (The Only Unavoidable Subject of Regret)

“I hope it will not be conceived from these observations, that it is my wish to hold the unhappy people, who are the subject of this letter, in slavery. I can only say that there is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do, to see a plan adopted for the abolition of it; but there is only one proper and effectual mode by which it can be accomplished, and that is by Legislative authority; and this, as far as my suffrage will go, shall never be wanting.”

On his death, Washington left directions for the emancipation, after Martha Washington died, of all the slaves who belonged to him. Furthermore, Washington stipulated that elderly slaves or persons too sick to work were to be supported throughout their lives by his estate. Furthermore, children without parents, or those whose families were too poor or indifferent to see to their education, were to be bound out to masters and mistresses who would “teach them reading, writing, and a useful trade, until they were ultimately freed at the age of 25.

The Life of Washington and Native Americans

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

Life of Washington, City Life, Censorship, Victor Arnautoff, Arnautoff, San Francisco,

The Life of George Washington

In the panel entitled ‘Westward Vision”,  Benjamin Franklin and other founding fathers are with Washington, pointing off into the distance, while he points with his other hand to a map. On the right side of the mural, frontiersmen are the only figures in greyscale. They stand over the dead body of a Native American man, signifying the genocide of Native American life and culture.

This ugly part of American history not glorified but starkly condemned by the artist.

The Life of Washington: Just one part of America’s legacy

America has a history, uncomfortable as it is, of slavery.  To ignore it, to sweep it under the rug allows future generations to not only forget, but in forgetting to repeat the sins of the past.  The board’s decision last week comes at a time when the legacies of Washington and other historical figures who owned slaves is under examination.

However, not forgetting the uncomfortable facts about our founding fathers means to discredit and erode the forced sacrifices of generations of people.

Richard Walker, a professor emeritus of geography at the University of California, Berkeley, and director of the history project, Living New Deal, says the Washington mural is meant to show the “uncomfortable facts” about America’s first president.

“We on the left ought to welcome the honest portrayal,” Walker said, adding that destroying a piece of art “is the worst way we can deal with historic malfeasance, historic evils.”

Lope Yap, Jr., is the vice president of the Washington High School Alumni Association. A 1970 graduate, Yap disagrees with destroying the art. As a student, Yap says, he was “awed by the subtle ways Arnautoff was able to critique American history.”

In interviews, Yap says the depictions are “treasures, priceless art” and painting it over is tantamount to pretending the history depicted never happened.

“I’m not into censorship,” Yap said. “I would want to deal with history so we can prevent this from ever happening again.”
History ignorant liberals

If San Francisco’s liberal leaders bother to do even the most cursory research, they would know that Arnautoff was among a group of artists painting murals at San Francisco’s Coit Tower. However, anti-communist sentiment did delay the tower’s opening.

Arnautoff’s piece, called City Life, shows urban workers crowding around a newsstand of socialist newspapers and magazines.

City Life, Censorship, Victor Arnautoff, Arnautoff, San Francisco, At the time, City Life facing criticism for failing to include the conservative-leaning San Francisco Chronicle, showing that liberal media, not art,  continues to influence America.

“Victor Arnautoff was far ahead of his time, and we have yet to catch up with him in terms of making school curriculum more inclusive and historically accurate,” said Harvey Smith, president of the National New Deal Preservation Association.

Richard Walker fears that destroying New Deal murals across the country will become common. Activists have been successful in destroying other New Deal – WPS murals. New Deal murals in New York and Iowa have been vandalized. Other’s painted over.

“The mural is an immense public treasure during one of the few periods of American history where you had the federal government supporting public art, public spaces, public goods,” Walker said. “It’s been the right that has always attacked the New Deal with its social programs.”

A better idea for San Francisco

San Francisco is home to much deeper issues  (Homeless America: How California’s liberal politicians perpetuate the crisis) One can only imagine the good that $600,000 spent to fight legal challenges, not preserve the art, could do for the prominently African-American students at the school.  Or the Native Americans in the San Francisco area.

It may be time to demand that liberals begin to fight the social injustices of 2019 and leave those of early America alon.

Jacquie Kubin

Jacquie Kubin

Jacquie Kubin is an award-winning writer and wanderer. She turns her thoughts to an eclectic mix of stories - from politics to sports. Restless by nature and anxious to experience new things, both in the real world and online, Jacquie mostly shares travel and culinary highlights, introduces readers to the chefs and creative people she meets and shares the tips, life and travel information people want to read.