The story would be shocking if it didn't come from Arizona where the governor seems to be channeling George Wallace circa 1968:
A group of artists has been asked to lighten the faces of children depicted in a large public mural at a Prescott, Ariz., school.
The project's leader says he was ordered to lighten the skin tone after complaints about the children's ethnicity. But the school's principal says the request was only to fix shading and had nothing to do with political pressure.
The "Go on Green" mural, which covers two walls outside Miller Valley Elementary School, was designed to advertise a campaign for environmentally friendly transportation. It features portraits of four children, with a Hispanic boy as the dominant figure.
R.E. Wall, director of Prescott's Downtown Mural Project, said he and other artists were subjected to slurs from motorists as they worked on the painting at one of the town's most prominent intersections. "We consistently, for two months, had people shouting racial slander from their cars,"
Wall said. "We had children painting with us, and here come these yells of (epithet for Blacks) and (epithet for Hispanics)...."
City Councilman Steve Blair spearheaded a public campaign on his talk show at Prescott radio station KYCA-AM (1490) to remove the mural.
In a broadcast last month, according to the Daily Courier in Prescott, Blair mistakenly complained that the most prominent child in the painting is African-American, saying: "To depict the biggest picture on the building as a Black person, I would have to ask the question: Why?"
Blair could not be reached for comment Thursday. In audio archives of his radio show, Blair discusses the mural. He insists the controversy isn't about racism but says the mural is intended to create racial controversy where none existed before.
"Personally, I think it's pathetic," he says. "You have changed the ambiance of that building to excite some kind of diversity power struggle that doesn't exist in Prescott, Arizona. And I'm ashamed of that."
Faces in the mural were drawn from photographs of children enrolled at Miller Valley, a K-5 school with 380 students and the highest ethnic mix of any school in Prescott.
Click here to see the mural and for the full story.
Trying to erase people from history is nothing new. Isn't that one of the spoils of war? Those in power write history. Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States offers up many stories of those the powerful hoped to erase from memory. Prescott, Arizona's attempt to erase people of color from their own consciousness is racist, yes, but hardly new.
Reading this story last night (besides making my stomach sick) brought to mind this story told by Biblical scholar John Dominic Crossan as to how the role of women in the early Christian church was erased - also through the defacing of art:
In 1906 a small cave was discovered cut into the rock on the northern slope of Bülbül Dag, high above the ruins of ancient Ephesus, just off the mid-Aegean coast of Turkey. To the right of the entrance and beneath layers of plaster, Karl Herold of the Austrian Archaeological Institute uncovered two sixth-century images of Saint Thecla and Saint Paul. They both have the same height and are therefore iconographically of equal importance.
They both have their right hands raised in teaching gesture and are therefore iconographically of equal authority. But while the eyes and upraised hand of Paul are untouched, some later person scratched out the eyes and erased the upraised hand of Thecla. If the eyes of both images had been disfigured, it would be simply another example of iconoclastic antagonism since that was believed to negate the spiritual power of an icon without having to destroy it completely. But here only Thecla’s eyes and her authoritative hand are destroyed. Original imagery and defaced imagery represent a fundamental clash of theology. An earlier image in which Thecla and Paul were equally authoritative apostolic figures has been replaced by one in which the male is apostolic and authoritative and the female is blinded and silenced. And even the cave-room’s present name, St. Paul’s Grotto, continues that elimination of female-male equality once depicted on its walls.
We take that original assertion of equality and later counter-assertion of inequality as encapsulating visually the central claim of this book in terms of Christianity itself. The authentic and historical Paul, author of the seven New Testament letters he actually wrote, held that within Christian communities, it made no difference whether one entered as a Christian Jew or a Christian pagan, as a Christian man or a Christian woman, as a Christian freeborn or a Christian slave. All were absolutely equal with each other. But in 1 Timothy, a letter attributed to Paul by later Christians but not actually written by him, women are told to be silent in church and pregnant at home (2:8-15). And a later follower of Paul inserted in 1 Corinthians that it is shameful for women to speak in church but correct to ask their husbands for explanations at home (14:33-36).
Those pseudo-Pauline, post-Pauline, and anti-Pauline obliterations of female authority are the verbal and canonical equivalent of that visual and iconographic obliteration of Thecla’s eyes and hand in that hillside cave. But both defacements also bear witness to what was there before the attack.
Just think how long it has taken us to reclaim some of these very important lost stories (Diana Butler Bass' A People's History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story A History of the Grassroots Movements in Christianity that Preserved Jesus's Message of Social Justice for 2,000 Years and Their Impact on the Church Today is another excellent text to read in this spirit).
Another similar story - more modern - comes from South Carolina during the New Deal. Back then the federal government, through the WPA, paid artists to paint murals. Not all were well accepted:
Stephan Hirch’s mural for Aiken, South Carolina, Court House had to be covered by a drape almost immediately after its completion because local people felt that the woman depicted as Justice looked like a mulatto.
The school's website appears to be down but I urge people of faith to reach out to their principal and with both respect and kindness ask him not to bow to racist political pressure.
Miller Valley Elementary School
Jeff Lane, Principal
900 Iron Springs Road
Prescott, Arizona 86305
Update: Principal Lane, showing courage, admited today that a mistake had been made and that the mural would not be changed. So now I encourage you to call his office and thank him at 928-717-3268. Thanks, Kurt, for writing in with this great news!
Update: Here's some good news...Councilman Blair has been fired by the radio station that airs his program.