San Francisco to remove offensive St. Junipero Serra statue at City Hall

Officials of the Arts Commission in San Francisco recently voted unanimously on removing a statue at City Hall that was, for decades, deemed offensive and racist to tribal groups.

(Wikimedia Commons/Beyond My Ken)San Francisco's Early Days sculpture will be removed from the Pioneer Monument sites at City Hall.

The statue featured a sculpture of St. Junipero Serra and Sir Francis Drake towering over a Native American sitting on the ground. Dubbed "Early Days," the statue formed part of a cluster of monuments at the City Hall erected in the late 1800s that honored the founders of California.

"It definitely feels like a long time coming," Barbara Mumby of the commission said, according to The Associated Press. "I think some people may not understand how big of a symbol it is to be able to take this down."

The San Francisco Arts Commission initiated the process of removing the sculpture following an incident in Virginia in 2017 over a Confederate statue. Demonstrators had clashed violently over a Robert E. Lee monument that led to the death of one protester and two policemen.

In its memo, the Arts Commission explained the decision to remove the statue was made because of "the allegorical sculpture's depiction of the degradation and genocide of Native American peoples, utilizing visual stereotypes common at the turn of the twentieth century to depict all Native Americans which are now universally viewed as disrespectful, misleading, and racist."

Drake was a British explorer from the 16th century, while Serra was a Spanish Franciscan priest who established missions in California. Drake traded Native American slaves to Serra but they were were mistreated if they tried to leave. The Catholic Church, however, canonized Serra in 2015 despite the history of brutalization, according to critics.

Native American descendants in California, the neighboring states and New York applauded the vote. Those opposed to the decision, however, said that California's history, even the tragic ones, could never be erased with a statue's removal.

The statue will be relegated to storage when the removal process is complete. In its place will be a plaque explaining the whole decision. Other statues in the Pioneer Monument cluster will not be affected by the vote.