SAN FRANCISCO — A misunderstood obsession with the wrong work of public art at a San Francisco high school has led to attacks on Black history nationwide, notes the leading historian of African-American history in the West.
John William Templeton, author of Our Roots Run Deep: the Black Experience in California Vols. 1-4, tells participants in the second session of his seven-week course Come to the Water Saturday that San Francisco education leaders ignored two of the most important artworks by Black artists at the same high school and the fact that Maya Angelou attended that school.
In the Sargent Johnson Century, Templeton places the proper focus on the most important work of public art at George Washington High School, “The History of Athletics” by Sargent Claude Johnson, the most important Black artist of the early 20th century.
Come to the Water: Teaching California Black History gives a deep understanding of the centrality of the Black experience to global history from Jan. 15 to March 5, Black American Day in California.
Templeton created the 6,000 site California African-American Freedom Trail to foster a canonical resource on the impact of Blacks in the Golden State so that schools and policy makers can make informed choices on preservation, education and development.
The choice by SFUSD to remove another mural by Victor Artuanoff because it had an image of an African-American with George Washington became a national flash point, and unfortunately, was based on an incorrect interpretation.
“The fact that Sargent Johnson played such a dominant role in San Francisco public art is a sign that any other art work at the site would not have been insulting to African-Americans,” notes Templeton.
Accelerated by social media and critics of African-Americans, the episode has led to attacks on “wokeness” gone wild. Some states are banning “divisive” concepts in equally incoherent policymaking.
As founder of ReUNION: Education-Arts-Heritage, the African-American children’s instructional channel, Templeton provides a scientifically-validated, evidence-based, culturally masterful repertoire of curriculum and professional development for American schools.
This year’s 14th annual Come to the Water is also part of the seventh annual Free African Schools nationwide professional development. “Since this mess started in California, we need to clean it up,” quips Templeton.