Massachusetts has John Winthrop, a Puritan leader of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and Samuel Adams, a founding father of the United States. Oklahoma has Sequoyah, who created the Cherokee alphabet, and beloved humorist Will Rogers. Virginia has George Washington and Robert E. Lee. Wisconsin has Jacques Marquette, the French Jesuit explorer who mapped the northern reaches of the Mississippi River, and Robert M. LaFollette Sr., a former governor and legendary U.S. senator.
Statues of these historical figures stand in the U.S. Capitol's National Statuary Hall, where each state has two representatives cast in bronze or marble. California was initially represented by Thomas Starr King, a Unitarian pastor who helped persuade California to stay in the Union as a free state during the Civil War, and Spanish missionary Junipero Serra, a Franciscan friar who established nine missions in the territory that would become this state. But in 2009, the state replaced King's statue with a bronze rendering of former governor and President Ronald Reagan. And on Monday, a divided California Senate approved a bill by Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) to replace Serra with a statue of the late astronaut Sally Ride, a native Californian and the first American woman in space. That measure has yet to be considered in the state Assembly.
Serra could be the first and only actual saint in Statuary Hall -- Pope Francis recently announced plans to canonize him -- yet he's also a polarizing figure. Is it time to send Serra to the sidelines (or more accurately, move his statue to the California Capitol grounds)?
More broadly, is the spirit of the state better represented by a more contemporary figure? We are, after all, famous for being all about the next big thing. And history is so last century. Or would such changes cheapen the state's presence in Statuary Hall?
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