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Editorial: Nominate a Californian: Who most deserves a statue in the U.S. Capitol?

Cesar Chavez, head of the United Farm Workers union, in Los Angeles, July 7, 1973.
Cesar Chavez, head of the United Farm Workers union, in Los Angeles, July 7, 1973. Chavez is one of the many remarkable Californians who should be considered to replace Father Serra in the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall.
(Dick Strobel / Associated Press)

California is a state full of great thinkers, creators and contributors to the story of the state and the history of the world. If the Legislature were to replace the 90-year-old statue honoring Father Junípero Serra in the U.S. Capitol — which it should — the options would be nearly endless, and Californians should be allowed to play a nominating role in the process.

The state’s list of Nobel Prize winners alone could fill a couple of galleries. Our state’s residents include world-famous celebrities in the entertainment field as well as in technology. Here are just a few of the people the members of the editorial board came up with while talking over the possibilities:

For the record:

1:24 p.m. Oct. 22, 2021An earlier version of this editorial incorrectly said Sally Ride was the first woman in space. She was the first American woman in space.

Astronaut Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, would have been the subject of a new statue in the Capitol, replacing Serra, if 2015 legislation had succeeded; she also would represent the accomplishments of California’s LGBTQ population. There’s Linus Pauling, the only person to win two undivided Nobel Prizes, for chemistry and then later the Peace Prize for his anti-nuclear weapons work. Or Ralph Bunche, the brilliant African American diplomat who was the valedictorian at both Jefferson High School and UCLA — where he worked his way through school — and won the Nobel Peace Prize for bringing about armistice in the Middle East.

There’s also Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, labor and civil rights leader Cesar Chavez and naturalist John Muir, who was instrumental in the creation of Yosemite, Kings and Sequoia national parks. He wrote some ignorant and nasty things about Native Americans in his earlier work but later came to change his viewpoints.

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Bridget “Biddy” Mason was an extraordinary early resident. She was born a slave in 1818 and spent most of her life that way. Ultimately, she was freed when the slave owner temporarily moved with her to the then-new state of California, where slavery was illegal. After she successfully sued for her freedom, Mason became a prominent landowner in Los Angeles, founded the First African Methodist Episcopal Church here and was renowned for using her fortune to feed and house the poor, visit prisoners and donate to charities.

Sports great Jackie Robinson grew up in Pasadena and played for the Dodgers (before they moved to L.A.), overcoming racism both at home and on the baseball diamond, where he became the first Black player to break the color barrier and play in the Major Leagues. He also was a vocal and active civil-rights advocate.

Who do you think would best represent California in the U.S. Capitol? Share your nominations with us on the form below. The only rules are that the person should be a U.S. citizen and deceased for at least five years.


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