History: Students need context for depictions of slavery
Officials at McKinley High School, in the Canton (Ohio) City Schools District, made the right call in September, when they chose to cover a portion of a historical mural in the school’s food court after hearing concerns over its depiction of slavery. But now what do they do?
“Highlights of American History,” which was dedicated in 1943, was painted by Timken High School student Frank Marchione, and depicts American history as beginning with Christopher Columbus in the 1490s (some readers may already see a problem), and ending with the U.S. emerging from the Great Depression and entering World War II. In the middle is a portion of the mural showing a white man with a whip lunging toward a shirtless Black man whose hands are bound to a pillar, according to the Associated Press. To the right of the slavery image is President Abraham Lincoln issuing the Emancipation Proclamation.
But because the mural is nearly 80 years old, the images are lacking context, for today’s students. One need not have much of an imagination to understand how disturbing the image of a bound Black man being whipped is to the student population.
David Marchione, the artist’s son, is right to argue the mural should not be removed. He went so far as to claim removing it would be a mistake on par with removing artwork showing the crucifixion of Christ.
“The reason (the crucifixion) is depicted so much is because it is the thing that shows the triumph of Christ above the cruelty of humanity,” David Marchione said.
Perhaps realizing his defense of the piece was missing the mark a bit, the younger Marchione went on to say that rather than hiding depictions of slavery, teachers should use it as a way to help students learn about the horrors of our past.
By not acknowledging the horrors of slavery, people cannot truly understand the triumphs of civil rights activists such as Martin Luther King Jr., he told the Associated Press.
Fine, but as the mural was finished in 1943, none of those moments in our history are on the wall.
It seems then, the school district has a clear choice to make. Add a plaque to the wall above that portion of mural explaining it is meant as a reminder of the sins of our past, NOT as a glorification; and then invite today’s students to fill in the ensuing decades. Yes, teach them about the past; and remind them that we as a nation did not stop evolving in 1943. The fight to be the best version of ourselves continues.
Let them paint that.