Washington University officials said a mural on campus that depicts prominent Black people was vandalized this weekend with racist symbols. Still, artists who worked on the mural say this is not the first time that the artwork was defaced.
The painting includes the civil rights leader and former U.S. Rep. John Lewis and the actor Chadwick Boseman, who died last summer and is known for his iconic superhero role in “Black Panther,” according to the school’s student newspaper.
Four top officials at the university in St. Louis, including Chancellor Andrew Martin, sent a letter to students and staff Sunday about the vandalism.
“This is horrifying and distressing. We’re shocked and saddened by this hateful act on our campus,” they wrote in the letter.
University officials said there are cameras in the area near the mural that is painted on the wall of a pedestrian tunnel that connects several dorms to the rest of the campus. The Washington University Police Department is investigating the incident. There are no further updates on the investigation, a school spokesperson told NBC BLK. The school said it hopes investigators will be able to identify the people who defaced the mural.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that several of the faces on the mural were painted white and stamped with symbols affiliated with a white supremacist hate group that was involved in the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. The school said it did not provide that information to the newspaper and could not confirm it.
The university added that students were quick to remove the hateful rhetoric.
“As soon as we learned of this incident, we began to mobilize to remove the white supremacist name and symbols from the mural and found that students had already worked quickly to cover them,” the university said.
The mural dubbed “The Story That Never Ends” was painted by local artists before the start of fall classes in 2020 in the wake of the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The mural, which came at a time of racial reckoning in the United States, aimed to shed light on racial injustice issues.
One of the artists, De’Joneiro Jones, 47, of St. Louis, said he immediately drove to the site of the mural once he heard it was defaced. When he arrived, a Black woman police officer tearfully recalled the racist symbols she saw on the mural, he said.
“She was in tears, telling me the defacement that was there before some of the university students went to their dorms and got fingernail polish remover and removed the actual text that was there,” he said.
This is not the only attack on the mural. Last year, Jones said, vandals scribbled the N-word and “pig” on the sidewalk as the artists took breaks painting the mural.
“It’s crazy,” he said. “We’d have to go get something to eat and come back and we had to leave the paint out there. So we would come back and somebody’s done spray painted nasty, nasty, awful things.”
The university denounced the act of hate, noting that it stands in solidarity with students of color.
“Let us say again, so there is absolutely no room for doubt: Washington University stands unequivocally against hate, bigotry, racism, xenophobia and discrimination in any form,” it said in a statement. “There is no place on our campus for these behaviors and this type of harmful action will not be tolerated or ignored.”