Editorial: Here’s who our readers think should replace the statue of Junípero Serra in D.C.
Cesar Chavez and Jackie Robinson. These were the top two nominees among our readers for notable Californians who would better represent the state in the National Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol than one of the current occupants, Father Junípero Serra.
Both the iconic farm labor leader and the sports great who broke baseball’s race barrier and worked in support of civil rights, would be worthy successors to Serra. As the Times editorial board wrote last Sunday, the architect of the California Mission movement is no longer the right representative for the state. His work helped erase the cultures and languages of many Native American tribes and he oversaw a system of forced labor that opened the region to white expansionism.
Serra has had his day as one of the two honored representatives of the state since 1931; the other is Ronald Reagan, whose statue was placed in 2009. It is time for someone who better represents modern-day sensibilities than Serra.
California struggles to reconcile Saint Serra with terrible mission-era injustices toward Native Americans. L.A.’s renaming of a park and Newsom’s signature on a bill to honor the state’s Native Americans are good steps toward healing.
Nearly 200 people have responded to our request for nominations, and some endorsed worthy figures suggested by the editorial board: Chavez, Robinson, Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, naturalist John Muir, and freed slave and L.A. real-estate entrepreneur and philanthropist Bridget “Biddy” Mason.
Others offered noteworthy ideas of their own. Among them: Earl Warren, the governor who became chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and guided a judicial era of support for civil rights, including an end to segregated schools. The great novelists Jack London and John Steinbeck. Jonas Salk, developer of a successful polio vaccine. Ishi, the last member of the Yahi tribe of Northern California that had been otherwise wiped out in repeated attacks by white settlers. And Walt Disney, creator of Mickey Mouse, Disneyland and founder of an animated empire.
As with Serra, some of these names carry negative connotations. Muir wrote in ugly terms about Native Americans — until he got to know them better and came to write more admiringly. Warren was a proponent of the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans, but expressed deep regret over that in his posthumously published memoirs. Walt Disney was accused of antisemitism, though there seems to be no real proof of that.
Greatness doesn’t have to mean perfection. We’re not a perfect state; just an extraordinary one with a history of well-known contributions to the world.
‘Biddy’ Mason? Jackie Robinson? Cesar Chavez? Linus Pauling? California’s history is filled with figures of greatness who could represent us well in Washington’s statuary collection.
Speaking of famous Californians, there was one nomination for the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia. Now that would enliven the statuary collection.
Times readers have started the discussion. Now it’s time for California legislators to narrow the list and vote to replace Serra’s statue.
But why stop there? Federal law allows the statues in the U.S. Capitol to be replaced once a decade, and the state has too many amazing people in its past to limit itself to a couple per century or so.
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