Swastika drawing discovered at Julian

Principal Fitzgerald urges residents not to rush to conclusions about swastika and school's decision to remove historic mural

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By Michael Romain

Staff Reporter

In an email sent to parents on April 18, Julian Principal Todd T. Fitzgerald shared the "deeply disturbing and disappointing news" that school officials discovered a swastika on the wall of the fourth-floor boys bathroom on Thursday.

"Based on the initial information we have collected from students and staff, we believe this reprehensible act was carried out sometime between second and fourth period today," Fitzgerald wrote in the email. 

"We have already begun our investigation into this situation, and will keep the school community updated on the status of our efforts," he sated. "In the meantime, I want to thank the students who brought this serious issue to our attention, and our custodial staff, for working quickly to remove the image from the wall." 

Fitzgerald said that he will address the school on Friday morning about the swastika incident and has "asked all of our teachers to reinforce both the message and our expectations during advisory." 

Don't jump to conclusions, principal says 

On April 15, Fitzgerald notified Julian families that on April 13 school officials had removed a more than 80-year-old mural at the middle school that some community members felt lacked diversity. The mural, called "Child and Sports-Winter," was painted by Ethel Spears in 1937 with the help of the WPA Federal Art Project. The mural shows a group of white students skating outdoors in winter. 

The mural was located inside of Julian's cafeteria and had been a staple at the school since it was built in 2002. The artwork had originally been located at the now-closed Lowell School in Oak Park, according to Barbara Bernstein, of the New Deal Art Registry. 

Fitzgerald said that school officials decided to remove the mural after some students and parents told administrators that the mural "did not reflect or represent the diversity of our student body, school or community." 

After conceding that the mural's removal invited "diverse and disparate reactions" over the past few days, Fitzgerald strongly urged community members to "avoid making assumptions, jumping to conclusions or spreading unfounded rumors" regarding any connection between the mural issue and the swastika. 

Fitzgerald said in the April 15 email that the school's Social Justice Club approached administrators about the possibility of "replacing the piece with something that is created by students with the help of our art teachers and community members." He added that school officials would talk to students about the mural's historical context, why it was removed and next steps this week. 

Email: michael@oakpark.com

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Reader Comments

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Alan Peres  

Posted: April 24th, 2019 3:38 PM

@Ramona Statistically, it would make virtually no difference if Percy Julian's family of 4 ( dad,mom and 2 kids) were or were not included. OP's population in 1930 was 62,000 per the OP Historical Society site. The Julian family, if they lived in Oak Park in 1930 ( and we assume a similar 1937 population) would have been .00006 of the total pop.

Alan Peres  

Posted: April 24th, 2019 2:01 PM

While reading, and rereading the comments I have been struck by how quickly many of the commentators are to downplay or dismiss the significance of the swastika because ( and I paraphrase) it was done by a middle schooler and what can you expect of them. Well, I expect a lot, and my research shows that you should too. The Holocaust and other genocides is mandatory in all D97 schools. I found field trips to the Illinois Holocaust Museum by kids from Beye, Julian and Brooks schools since January 2019. I didn't spend time looking for more but I am confident I would have found them. Whoever drew that swastika, whether adult or pre-teen, knew what he or she was doing - trying to scare others. Whether they were aiming at African Americans, Hispanics, Jews, or other Nazi targets like Poles, Slavs, Romas, the disabled and chronically ill, they were out to make a point. And remember that the Nazis planned, once they conquered Europe to conquer North America and bring to our shores a world free of non-Aryans. And don't forget that the mural shows white kids playing. In 1937 that didn't include Jews, as they were redlined in Oak Park and may not have included other European groups either. Am I upset. Yes. Because I just read about a professor at Middlebury who wrote an an exam question asking how much gas was needed in a concentration camp camp gas chamber to kill a certain number of victims. A very typical physical chemistry problem, don't you think. Notice he didn't talk about euthanizing animals. That would have gotten him fired. Killing Jews just got him put on a paid leave of absence.

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: April 24th, 2019 12:59 PM

Mr. Peres, I think you just strengthened his argument that the artwork was an accurate account of Oak Park in 1937.

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: April 24th, 2019 12:58 PM

Alan, the only thing Ray Simpson wants to change is the social justice progress of the past 60 years. Be gentle with him, he startles easily when shaken from his slumbers and confronted with the fact that its 2019, not 1959..

Alan Peres  

Posted: April 24th, 2019 12:35 PM

@Ray Simpson Percy Julian was not a resident of Oak Park in 1937. He did not move into the village until 1950, 13 years after the mural was painted. Does that change anything for you?

Alan Peres  

Posted: April 23rd, 2019 10:14 AM

While doing my research about cursive I went to the D97 website on 2 different web browsers. Both told me the web site is not secure. I emailed President Spurlock to tell her about my concern. If you are concerned ( and you should be) please join me in asking for this to be corrected immediately.

Alan Peres  

Posted: April 23rd, 2019 10:11 AM

Ramona and Jason are both right about cursive. Cursive writing is not an official part of the D97 curriculum according to someone I talked with at District HQ. "Components " of cursive are taught. So Ramona, your neighbor is correct that cursive is not taught as a specific subject. And Jason, you are correct that your kids learned it in D97. Ramona, because we are discussing D97 issues I can't comment about the kids you deal with in Chicago and CPS policies and practices.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: April 23rd, 2019 9:48 AM

Will this student be given the full benefit of Restorative Justice?

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: April 22nd, 2019 10:33 PM

The kid who drew the swastika is a little moron who is probably not aware of the history of that symbol. It's like kids who use the n word. They have no idea about the history of that word. It's not that people don't care about others feelings, some simply believe the truth and history are more important, as well they should be. The painting does not depict violence. It does not promote hate. It's an accurate representation of Oak Park at the time it was painted. I'm sure the kids can handle it. We seemed to handle pictures of the holocaust when we were in junior high. I still find the "social justice" club way off base. Teaching kids identity politics at that age is far worse than a painting of a bunch of kids ice skating. Why can't we just allow kids to be kids. This is I'm sure all being forced on the kids by their parents. Good article from the Huff Post: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/feelings-are-not-facts-a_b_8726718

Chris Johnson from OP  

Posted: April 22nd, 2019 6:08 PM

@Jason - These comments towards me? "So many of the comments on here are mind boggling. Let's ignore swastikas because the kids are younger? If you don't think whomever did this knows what it is then you are a fool. I don't necessarily think they are white supremacists necessarily but they knew exactly what they were doing and it's great that some here don't care about the feelings of others in this community. Let's not be upset with the kid that did this but let's be upset with those that didn't like it. That's brilliant."

Jason Cohen  

Posted: April 22nd, 2019 5:59 PM

@Chris, I agree with you and I like your idea. This should have been an opportunity to teach kids. Maybe they did reference it in some way? I am not aware. So many of the comments on here are mind boggling. Let's ignore swastikas because the kids are younger? If you don't think whomever did this knows what it is then you are a fool. I don't necessarily think they are white supremacists necessarily but they knew exactly what they were doing and it's great that some here don't care about the feelings of others in this community. Let's not be upset with the kid that did this but let's be upset with those that didn't like it. That's brilliant. The whole idea that we should keep it "because of history" is also laughable. Nobody is hiding the history of the times but that doesn't mean we have to throw it in kids faces each day does it? Again nobody even cared about this mural until now so the amazing historical significance was clearly lost on most people.

Chris Johnson from OP  

Posted: April 22nd, 2019 2:55 PM

etc because they make people uncomfortable. They serve as a reminder of that history. Remember? THESE ARE KIDS and NOT adults like those of us arguing this in a comment section. So, making comments about things that will surely go over their heads doesn't really align? right? I'm curious? where are those other pieces of art that could be perceived as totalitarian in the schools?

Chris Johnson from OP  

Posted: April 22nd, 2019 2:55 PM

So, lets say the school teaches the kids what was happening when a mural was made and why it was painted the way it was. Then you have everyone sit next to it every day. What does that reinforce in a kids mind? I see this as an opportunity ?" you move the mural and create something new that places a new "snapshot" of Oak Park. And in years to come? that may and probably will change again. And maybe it wasn't painted as a racist mural but in 1937, segregation was a VERY real thing and would have helped, subconsciously(?), cause paintings to be all white? So while educating children about segregation you can note that the mural (that was) in the cafeteria highlights that segregation and the sociodemographic makeup of Oak Park at the time. So all of us in different shades of brown know that we are new guests here? Am I really coming off as being in support of censorship? I really see nothing wrong with moving the mural. Paintings/artwork are moved to different locations all the time for them to be enjoyed, learned from, etc. Good times and bad times in those periods. Go to Berlin and do a historical walk ?" loads of artwork that is part of history, Nazi Germany. Can't say for sure, but I don't think they'd leave anything that could be interpreted as Nazi propaganda in a school just because it was a part of the history (and NO I'm not equating that mural to Nazi propaganda ?" just sprang to my mind considering the article was about a swastika). Pretty sure they would move it to a place that could set the right stage for it. To learn from it. Say what you want about my comments. But I am not going all Fahrenheit 451 on this. I don't think we should be censoring. What we are talking about is a school. I don't think history should be wiped because we are ashamed, afraid, idiots, etc. We need to remember where we came from and the path to get here and beyond. I don't think anyone is saying that we should start getting rid of books, houses, buildin

Alex Garcia  

Posted: April 22nd, 2019 2:50 PM

@Jason: You believe that this particular WPA-era mural should be removed because some students/parents might be offended (or otherwise have their feelings hurt somehow). Plenty of WPA and Treasury-era art, some of which is still displayed in school buildings, park field houses etc across Chicago was painted by artists who had Communist sympathies and supported Stalin's regime at the time (i.e. the "Socialist Realism" genre). If someone is offended by those murals on the basis that it evokes or condones such a totalitarian ideology, do you believe that those murals should also be removed? If not, why not?

Edwin Haag  

Posted: April 22nd, 2019 1:41 PM

@Jason. This is an historical mural painted by a significant artist and you wrote " I could care less about a mural over the feelings of kids today going to the school. If some kids were upset by it then I am happy it's gone." Again, why do feelings trump the truth?

Nick Polido  

Posted: April 22nd, 2019 12:56 PM

Jason, I really would love to banter with your woke stupidity. but don't have time with such moronic thinking as if the kids actually know what a swastika stands for , or that the individual perpetrating this hate crime knows what Passover is not mention most the students in this school could not tell you who was fighting in the 2nd world war.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: April 22nd, 2019 12:54 PM

"What it was" is a mural of children ice skating. What it is now is censorship. The kind where "some parents" are able to make something racist when it was never ever racist. Is that 2 people who called? Four? In a town of 50000. That is all it takes and the anonymous some people get rid of some art they don't like. Its a slippery slope. But lets get rid of all the old stuff around here. Next up: "some people" object to celebrating Frank Lloyd Wright because all of his clients were too rich or too whatever. "Some people" don't like Ernest Hemingway. After all, its a town, not a museum.

Chris Johnson from OP  

Posted: April 22nd, 2019 12:35 PM

The kid that did it is at most 14 years old, right? Unless it was a teacher, staffer or parent that was in the building, right? At age 14 do you think a kid fully understands the meaning of a symbol? I have no doubt they did it out of some sense of hate for some reason and this was how they felt they could express that anger and try to lash back (maybe they were picked on by peers, their parents, their teachers, coaches, etc). Doesn't make it ok... but what is going on in a 14 yo kids mind to do it? I'd be more concerned about that kid and what may be going on there. Seriously? The mural in a school. Take it down and put it in a museum if its that important. No kid should feel that anything around them says "get out." Again, the oldest kids there are 14 and they are being "forced" to deal with that old mentality. Their parents didn't take them to see it and explain what it was in the past. Don't think anyone is saying burn all the books, etc that people don't agree with... For the most part you can pick what you read. But sitting next to a mural because that is where you have to be every day, is not a choice. Its a school, not a historical walking tour of the area, not a museum, not a private residence, etc.

Jason Cohen  

Posted: April 22nd, 2019 11:39 AM

@Nick, I really hope your are joking. This isn't "graffiti" this is a hate crime period. This isn't some tag or crazy picture. It's a swastika posted right before Passover no less. I can only imagine what the comments would be like on here if the message was kill whites instead. Anyone acting like this is some casual act is a disgrace to our community.

Jason Cohen  

Posted: April 22nd, 2019 11:34 AM

@Edwin, what in the world are you talking about. This is a mural. I have a son at Julian. They dive into lots of deep difficult subjects and books. This isn't some book burning. Does anyone think the kids don't know the area was white back in the day. I could care less about a mural over the feelings of kids today going to the school. If some kids were upset by it then I am happy it's gone. Literally nobody cared about this thing until now but of course we now have to jump to Orwell like that's not a ridiculous giant leap. The mural can be displayed somewhere else. We will all manage without it.

Edwin Haag  

Posted: April 22nd, 2019 10:43 AM

@Jason: Why is it that sensitivity and feelings are more important than truth and facts? What kind of Orwellian world do we live in when we feel the need to hide history from our children?

Nick Polido  

Posted: April 22nd, 2019 8:31 AM

Can we stop with the reporting of bathroom graffiti...please !!! Lets not forget the WPA mural at Mann school (and I think Hatch), this mural to should be checked for accuracy and compliance to meet the current racial make up of our woke Village....

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: April 21st, 2019 8:26 PM

@Mr. Cohen. I was confirming to Mr. Peres my previous statement. You should come down to Englewood with me for a day and see how many kids cannot sign their name. Also, I saw my neighbor this morning and asked her again about cursive. She teaches at Whittier and told me again, "we do not teach cursive anymore".

Alice Wellington  

Posted: April 21st, 2019 7:28 PM

Ten bucks says it's a hoax designed to "start a conversation" in response to people upset about removing the mural.

Michael Nevins  

Posted: April 21st, 2019 3:37 PM

My best bet of who drew this symbol is a middle-school kid who thought it cool and clever. In most towns (and historically) someone like this would either call with a bomb threat or pull the fire alarm, but this is OP and so we're different. The adults don't see the connection over the furor/reaction of a WPA drawing and something like this? After burning murals & books the next project for OP is to burn any pictures of say, Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Hamilton and Jackson. Why? Unlike us, they have done/said awful and sinful acts and this can not stand. Begin with the pictures in your wallet.

Alan Peres  

Posted: April 21st, 2019 2:44 PM

So, we have a middle school age neo-Nazi in training and that isn't on the radar of almost anyone on this thread. It sure is on mine as my house was vandalized 3 times in six months because of my ethnic/ religious background. If you would rather make broad generalizations and call people names it is not going to make anything better.

Jason Cohen  

Posted: April 21st, 2019 10:56 AM

@Ramona, once again your info is incorrect. They do teach cursive in the grade school. Please stop always spreading misinformation on here. It's getting old.

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: April 20th, 2019 10:26 PM

@Alan. Yes, I wrote that. I work with youth and the majority CANNOT sign their name and according to a teacher on my block cursive is no longer taught in grade school. So what's your point?

Alice Wellington  

Posted: April 20th, 2019 9:16 PM

Alan Peres - so was the charcoal mask kid, yet that did not stop the doxxing.

Alan Peres  

Posted: April 20th, 2019 8:29 PM

My comment to Ramona should have said that she wrote, not she wore.

Alan Peres  

Posted: April 20th, 2019 8:28 PM

@Alice Probably not made public because he was ( likely) a juvenile.

Alan Peres  

Posted: April 20th, 2019 8:26 PM

@Ramona You wore in your original comment "They don't even teach cursive anymore, so kids can't even sign their own name. " Despite what you claim, that is what you wrote.

Alice Wellington  

Posted: April 20th, 2019 8:19 PM

Speaking of swastika, was the name of the person who airdropped it at OPRF ever made public? The charcoal mask kid was doxxed within days, yet in this case, nothing, even though the police was able to identify the culprit. Why the silence?

Alex Garcia  

Posted: April 20th, 2019 6:03 PM

To the Jason's: Rational people can separate to the mural issue from the reported swastika. The latter is reprehensible in any form. The former is yet another example of Oak Park leftists and leftists more generally purging anything to they believe does not conform to their (your?) neo-Marxist view of what 2019 should look like. For such leftists, it is always year zero. All statues, streets, art prior to year zero is invalid. Hence the 1984 (and Animal Farm) references are quite on point. Orwell was a socialist who worried about the darkest impulses of the left and the totalitarianism it was capable of.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: April 20th, 2019 5:20 PM

Hey, Jason, welcoming you to the "usual suspecs" club. As in the movie Casablanca, someone in the government will give the order, " Round up the usual suspects". I swear to you, I will never let them take you alive, saving the last bullet for you.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: April 20th, 2019 5:09 PM

Well Bruce, I am sure the Social Justice Club will find a way to purge the school of the horror of 80 year old art showing children ice skating. All the kids better join that club too, so they can group think on things.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: April 20th, 2019 4:48 PM

I agree Tom. You know how a lot of us come spring have a spring cleaning day? Well the schools and the library should have a spring cleaning as well. There should be a "cleansing" day where all offensive materials - books or art or otherwise - are removed and burned in the public square. I seem to recall that there is some really offensive stuff in some books by some white guy named Mark Twain. We can start with him.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: April 20th, 2019 4:25 PM

They should burn the mural in the playground, along with any books in the library that "some students and parents" decide they don't like.

Jason Cohen  

Posted: April 20th, 2019 3:35 PM

It's also awesome that not a single comment on here is about this disgusting act at the school. All the usual suspects care about is complaining about the schools and how another government body here is messing everything up. Not a word about the trash that actually did this or the impact on some of the kids. Many of the "adults" on here act more ridiculous than the children in this town.

Jason Cohen  

Posted: April 20th, 2019 3:27 PM

We don't need a mural to teach students what our village or the world looked like a long time ago. I agree we should teach these lessons but a mural isn't critical to teach any of this and if some are offended that something they probably never even looked at is gone then that's fine. I would rather it be history somewhere and not offend some kid that wonders why the mural doesn't represent them at their school. is anyone going to be hurt because it's gone? Were some hurt it was there? I care more about the feelings of the students over some older people in this community that don't even have kids at the schools. Should we have a giant mural of slaves because that's part of our history. Let's make all the kids feel welcome and not stress about some old piece of art that can easily go somewhere else.

Jason Cohen  

Posted: April 20th, 2019 3:21 PM

@Ramona, you literally said all those things. I am not sure what you are trying to say then. You are complaining that they don't teach these things and now you are saying you aren't complaining that they don't teach these things??? That's the whole point of your post. Fortunately posts on here can't be edited or I am guessing you would update it. Based on the fact that the schools actually teach all these classes then please explain to me why having a club that's voluntary is some sort of a problem? You don't seem to have any actual point based on the fact that all the classes you seem to have questions about actually exist and this club has nothing to do with the core curriculum.

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: April 20th, 2019 2:39 PM

Jason, Since both my daughters never attended public schools, my source for the cursive statement is an Oak Park teacher who lives on my block. I never said those classes didn't exist Jason. I think you get off on putting words in my mouth. Must make you feel better about yourself. Nice to see I have my own personal fact checker LOL. Lastly, English is my 2nd language and I know I am lacking in the fine details of it, but I challenge you to learn a second language and attempt to express yourself in a public forum.

Jason Cohen  

Posted: April 20th, 2019 2:07 PM

@Ramona, you seem to be a fan of saying things on this site that are just flat out wrong. My kids took cursive in elementary school and my son who's at Julian takes all the courses you seem to think don't exist. Do you know what a club is? It's not actually a class. It's an optional club. I know you may not like facts on the right but before posting you should consider validating things first.

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: April 20th, 2019 1:50 PM

@Jason. Have you ever read "1984" 2 + 2= 5? You call this a small step to equity and inclusion. I find this to be a leap to rewrite history. This mural was an accurate depiction in Oak Park at the time it was painted. Does the faculty at Julian decide what children draw now in art class? Is there no freedom of expression, unless "approved" by the far left wing faculty and staff? Why does a middle school have a "social justice club"? They don't even teach cursive anymore, so kids can't even sign their own name. If you truly wanted "social justice", then you would teach kids math, reading, English and science so as individuals they are prepared to succeed in the world and have the capacity to handle any adversity the confront. Instead, our public schools enforce a tribalism mentality that does nothing more than create a us vs them world. It's the new religion of the left and the original sin is being white.

Ray Simpson  

Posted: April 20th, 2019 1:37 PM

Just some historical perspective. When this WPA mural was painted there was only one black family in Oak Park. Interestingly enough it was that same Dr Julian who was a world renowned scientist who figured out how to synthesize medicines from other stuff ( sorry it is science beyond my understanding) that was honored by having the school named in his honor. BTW I was at Ridgeland Commons Ice Rink not 2 hours ago and there was not a single black child skating. Do we need stricter rules about inclusion?

Jason Wulkowicz from Oak Park  

Posted: April 20th, 2019 12:28 PM

The removal (not destruction) of the mural was one small step on the much longer road to equity and inclusion. Were there other ways to address the mural issue? Sure; but after over a year of talk and inaction something needed to be done. And we're a better community because of it. To the Oak Parkers who are questioning the act, I ask you to keep in mind that if we are too critical and unsupportive of something as trivial as this single painting, how are we ever going to enact all of the changes we are going to face when implementing our new Equity and Inclusion policy in our schools?

Karen Walker-Ward  

Posted: April 20th, 2019 9:28 AM

Why replace it. Just add another mural and label them "past and present" or add some historical info to educate.

Pat Koko  

Posted: April 20th, 2019 2:06 AM

WPA Art is a part of US history and if it is offensive to the Julien community then it should be given to the New Deal or whatever it is called Art registry that is trying to locate all the art that was developed during the post depression era. Please don't destroy it.

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