On Friday, protesters in Golden Gate Park tore down statues commemorating three historical figures — "Star-Spangled Banner" poet Francis Scott Key, Civil War general Ulysses S. Grant, and Junipero Serra, the architect of California's mission system during Spanish colonization.
The removal of the statues in the park's Music Concourse is part of an ongoing national movement reckoning with America's roots in colonialism, imperialism and slavery.
Key had multiple slaves, while Grant, despite commanding the Union Army in the Civil War, had (and prior to the war, freed) one. The mission system designed by Serra banned Indigenous cultural practices, and captured and beat Indigenous people who tried to escape.
Statue of Francis Scott Key, slave owner and author of the Star Spangled Banner, toppled in San Francisco. pic.twitter.com/uhoSNVmoEn— Shane Bauer (@shane_bauer) June 20, 2020
People just toppled the Junipero Serra statue in San Francisco. Serra founded the first nine Spanish missions in California. pic.twitter.com/YbfEzKMyjH— Shane Bauer (@shane_bauer) June 20, 2020
Over the weekend, cleaning crews shut down the Music Concourse to scrub graffiti and markings from the statues' pedestals. But the statues themselves continue to remain out of sight.
The statues themselves are the property of the San Francisco Arts Commission, said Rec & Park spokesperson Tamara Aparton. A spokesperson from the Arts Commission did not return a request for comment on where they'd been taken, or whether they would be returned to the park.
It's possible that the statues may not return. Last week, the city voluntarily removed the Christopher Columbus statue at Coit Tower, which had been defaced multiple times in the prior week.
Though Columbus' likeness was erected in many cities to honor Italian-Americans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, his legacy is being reconsidered in the light of slavery, rape and violence his followers perpetuated against the native people of the Caribbean.
Not all the statues in the Music Concourse were torn down by protesters. Those honoring Spanish novelist Miguel de Cervantes, Bacchus, Egypt and winemaking all emerged from the weekend damaged by graffiti but still in place.
UPDATE 6/23: San Francisco Arts Commission spokesperson Rachelle Axel confirmed the commission was working with Rec & Park and the Mayor's office to conduct a sweeping review of its collection citywide.
"We are working diligently to assess the damage to the collection," Axel wrote in an email, "and are looking forward to collaborating with the Human Rights Commission and the Recreation & Parks Department on leading an inclusive community process to evaluate our public art, per the Mayor's directive."
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