Statues of Serra, Grant toppled in SF

SAN FRANCISCO - Protesters in Golden Gate Park toppled statues of?Fr. Junipero Serra, Francis Scott Key and President Ulysses S. Grant on Friday night, spurring a national debate over the complex legacies of those historical figures amid a broader movement to remove what critics say are monuments to white supremacy.

A group of roughly 100 ?people pulled down the monuments displayed in the park’s Music Concourse near the de Young Museum and California Academy of Sciences, an eyewitness said. Police were called to the area just after 8 p.m., and said people in the group threw objects at the officers. The crowd dispersed around 9:30 with no arrests or reports of injuries.

One video posted to Twitter showed the group using a strap to topple the statue of Serra. Photos also showed people vandalized a monument to Spanish writer Miguel Cervantes, the author of “Don Quixote.” And parks officials said the group vandalized several other features in the Music Concourse as well, including sculptures, benches and a fountain.

The toppled statues were removed by park crews late Friday night and are now being kept in storage, a San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department spokesperson said.

By Saturday morning, city workers were busy power-washing the statues’ granite pedestals, with some still showing anti-police messages. The base for Serra’s statue identified it as Ohlone land. Just a few drops of paint remained on a statue depicting the fictional characters Don Quixote and his sidekick Sancho Panza looking up to the bust of Cervantes.

Serra is known as the founder and leader of the mission system that helped create modern California. Key wrote “The Star-Spangled Banner” and Grant led the Union Army to victory in the Civil War before becoming president.

But the subjugation of Black slaves, in Key’s case; of Native Americans, in Serra’s; and Grant’s seesaw history with both, is another piece of each man’s legacy pointing to why they were targeted Friday night.

In a statement Saturday, San Francisco Mayor London Breed said she understood the “very real pain in this country rooted in our history of slavery and oppression.” But Breed did not weigh in on the debate over memorializing Serra, Key and Grant, focusing instead on the broader destruction at the park.

“Every dollar we spend cleaning up this vandalism takes funding away from actually supporting our community, including our African American community,” Breed said. “I say this not to defend any particular statue or what it represents, but to recognize that when people take action in the name of my community, they should actually involve us.”

Breed continued, “I have asked the Arts Commission, the Human Rights Commission, and the Recreation and Parks Department to work with the community to evaluate our public art and its intersection with our country’s racist history.”

Many Native Americans blame Serra for the destruction of their culture and the decimation of their ancestors from European diseases, as well as for the brutal punishment he inflicted on those who tried to run away from California’s Missions.

For those reasons, Stanford University in 2018 scrubbed Serra’s name from many of its buildings.

On Saturday afternoon, videos posted to Twitter showed demonstrators in Los Angeles had torn down another statue of Serra, in a park named for him near Union Station.

Pausing on a run through Golden Gate Park on Saturday, San Francisco resident Stefan Hastrup said he has often thought about the significance of the statues in the area.

“I realize these are people who lived in a context, I get that,” Hastrup said. “But putting up statues makes them heroes.”

He pointed out there are no equivalent statues of Native Americans that suffered under Serra, for example.

“These statues signal the endorsement of who matters,” he said. “I’m not sad.”

The toppling of the statues coincided with Juneteenth, which commemorates the day in 1865 when enslaved Americans in Texas learned of the Emancipation Proclamation, which had set them free two years prior.

Key owned several slaves, and as a lawyer, Smithsonian Magazine wrote, “Key used his office as the District Attorney for the City of Washington from 1833 to 1840 to defend slavery, attacking the abolitionist movement in several high-profile cases.”

The yearslong debate over monuments and school names that honor Confederate generals, slave-owning founding fathers and colonists such as Christopher Columbus has ratcheted up this spring amid the national Black Lives Matter movement against police brutality and racism.

Statues across the country and abroad have been removed and destroyed - in some cases by activists and in others by local governments. On Thursday, city of San Francisco workers removed a statue of Columbus near Coit Tower that had previously been targeted by protesters.

President Trump and many conservatives, meanwhile, have sought to protect the monuments, saying they are part of American history.

With that backdrop, the toppling of Grant’s bust in particular had by Saturday morning garnered national attention, with even some who supported removal of Confederate monuments questioning whether it was appropriate to do the same with Grant. As president, Grant supported the 15th ?Amendment giving Black Americans the right to vote - though that right could not be exercised in many Southern states for nearly another century - as well as other pieces of Reconstruction-era legislation meant to stop the white supremacist terrorism that followed the Civil War.

But before the war, Grant had married into a slave-holding family and briefly owned a man named William Jones, who Grant emancipated in 1859, according to the American Civil War Museum.

Assessing Grant’s legacy toward Native Americans in 2016, the news site Indian Country Today wrote that his policies “fell far short of what he promised,” noting that “some of the worst massacres and grossest injustices in history” occurred during his administration.

Grant signed legislation that promoted white Americans’ westward expansion onto Native lands, as well as the establishment of reservations, schools and churches blamed for the destruction of Indigenous culture.

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