City to Remove Racist Civic Center Statue

The 1894 statue has long drawn criticism for its demeaning depiction of Native Americans.

Pioneer Monument located near San Francisco City Hall. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

The Historic Preservation Commission voted unanimously Wednesday to remove the controversial part of a statue in Civic Center that has been called a symbol of the degradation and genocide of Native Americans.

The statue that sits on Fulton Street outside the Main Public Library has drawn years-long criticism for its placement of a Native American sitting on the ground — with a mission padre and vaquero standing over him. It is one of four other statues that make up the 1894 Pioneer Monument, which faces San Francisco City Hall.

Now, the decision to remove it is going back to the Arts Commission, which moved to remove the monument titled ‘Early Days’ after the removal of a Confederate statue in Charlottesville, Va. set off white nationalist protests.

Removing the ‘Early Days’ statue was determined by Arts Commission staff to not impact the overall character of the district and will be cleaned by preservation experts before long-term storage. But the question of what happens after removal made some Historic Preservation commissioners skeptical that the lesson would be missed by future onlookers.

Commissioner Richard Johns recounted a story of how he was told as a young man that it symbolizes how over and over again, there will be one group that thinks it knows everything taking advantage of another group. 

“I think it’s there to warn us that terrible things can happen,” Johns said, not acknowledging the rarity of the lesson and that it was dedicated in the 19th century. “We have to confront the ugliness in our past.”

Perhaps seeing this argument coming, one public commenter — who identified herself as Native American but whose name SF Weekly didn’t catch — told the commissioners that she and others have been asking for this for decades. 

“I am told so many times that people will forget the history of the genocide of the Native Americans,” she said at the meeting. “I’ll make sure that no one forgets.”

The Historic Preservation Commission eventually voted for the removal with an amendment that the Arts Commission should include a plaque addressing why the statue was removed. Commissioners agreed during the debate that the removal sends a message that these monuments shouldn’t exist and that contextualizing them in a museum would be beneficial.

This is one of recent efforts to address continued glorification of colonialization that decimated Native American populations. Last month, San Francisco joined a national movement in renaming Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples Day.

The agreement to officially designate the alteration as appropriate will go back to the Arts Commission for final approval.

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