School Mural Sparks Charges of Racism

Filed under: In The News

Artist R. E. Wall addresses the crowd as PUSD Superintendent Kevin Kapp, at left, and Miller Valley Elementary School Principal Jeff Lane look on during a rally in support of the mural at the Lincoln Elementary School. Credit: Les Stukenberg, The Daily Courier

A face on a mural at Miller Valley Elementary School in Prescott, Ariz., keeps changing color.

First it was brown. Then it got slightly creamy. Now it's turning brown again.

Along the way, a lot of faces in the community turned red -- both from anger and embarrassment -- amid charges of racism.

And a city councilman in the town of 43,000, located two hours north of Phoenix, lost his job as a radio talk show host as a result.

R.E. Wall, of the Prescott Downtown Mural Project, was commissioned by the Prescott Unified School District to paint the mural. It shows young people with happy faces riding bikes and using other "green" sources of transportation.

The largest face painted on the mural is brown, and Wall tells ParentDish he intended it that way.

"I want it be a Mexican-American child," he says. "We weren't looking at the demographics of the community. What we were focusing on is the demographics of the school."

Students at Miller Valley Elementary, Wall says, are almost 48 percent Hispanic.

Nonetheless, the Arizona Republic reports, Principal Jeff Lane asked Wall and the other artists on the project to lighten the kids' faces.

"We asked them to fix the shading on the children's faces," he tells the newspaper. "We were looking at it from an artistic view. Nothing at all to do with race."

Last week, however, the Prescott Daily Courier reports Lane apologized for the decision before a crowd of protesters and said the face on the mural would resume it's original color.

Wall tells ParentDish the controversy was always about public pressure. He and the other artists involved in the project heard a constant barrage of racist remarks about African-Americans and Hispanics while working on the mural.

"That's been the hardest part, because I have a lot of multicultural friends," Wall says.

Councilman Steve Blair allegedly lost his radio gig because he didn't like the mural and said so on his afternoon talk show on local station KYCA. He claims he was fired for his statements.

"My concern about the mural was that it was defacing a public building of a historic nature," he says in an interview recorded on the website Prescott E-News.

"Not everything is OK," he says. "And not everything should be looked at as I have to be politically correct around everyone I stand with."

Charges of racism apparently surfaced after Blair responded to a caller on his show.

"Some guy called me and said, 'Doesn't that look like a big ol' black guy in the middle of that picture?' " Blair says in the interview. "I said, 'It does. Maybe it has something to do with the guy who's in the White House.' Whether you like it or not, he's our president and he is black. There's nothing racism (sic) about what I just said. It's a statement. It's a fact. But everyone wants to paint you as being some kind of crook."

Station officials -- who air national conservative talk shows hosted by Rush Limbaugh, Laura Ingraham and Michael Savage -- dropped Blair from their afternoon lineup.

"I am not longer the KYCA 1490 p.m. guy," Blair says in the Prescott E-News interview. "I am going to be the afternoon water-my-garden guy."

The Arizona Republic reports the mural, funded by a $5,000 state grant through the Prescott Alternative Transportation Center, was selected by students and faculty to reflect the theme "Go Green!"

Wall tells ParentDish the face on the mural is more than paint on a wall.

Related: UC San Diego Condemns Frat Party Mocking Black History Month

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