San Francisco school board votes to keep divisive mural

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The San Francisco school board will preserve but cover up a public high school mural depicting slavery and the killing of a Native American.

After a public outcry, the board on Tuesday voted 4-3 to reverse an earlier vote in June to paint over the "Life of Washington" mural at George Washington High School. 

Instead, the work will be covered with panels depicting what's termed "the heroism of people of color in America" and their fight against racism.

"We are not going to paint over public art," said Stevon Cook, president of the SF Board of Education. "We're going to find another way to keep it from public view." 

The 1936 mural depicts the life of George Washington. Sections of the 1,600-square-foot (149-square-meter) work show the darker side of that history: pioneers standing over a dead Native American and slaves working at Washington's estate. 

Opponents called the mural racist and offensive, adding that it is cruel to students of color.

"I am a great granddaughter of a slave," said teacher Virginia Marshall. "I don't need a mural in my school or office to tell me I'm a slave."

Supporters said destroying it would be historical and artistic censorship. 

San Francisco native, Danny Glover, spoke out against the board's original decision to destroy the longstanding mural, likening the move to "book burning." 

"Leave that mural alone," Rev. Amos Brown, President of the San Francisco NAACP, said at Tuesday night's meeting. "It tells the whole truth about Mr. Washington being complicit in the slave trade." 

Mural supporters said they want it accessible and that they might still sue or go to San Francisco voters on this issue. 

"We are going to pursue every legal and political option afforded to us," said Lope Yap Jr. from George Washington High School Alumni Association. 

The next step is for staff to draw up some panel options and then submit them for environmental review. The length of that process could take some time. In the meantime, the murals will remain in view this school year and possibly the following year. 

KTVU's Debora Villalon contributed to this report.