They are confidants for our two dozen and 10 states: one hundred dead luminaries depicted in statues of marble or bronze, two from each state, like the famous Noah’s ark.
They are stationed throughout the United States Capitol building, standing or sitting for centuries, away from battles, which could cause some of them to be evicted from the premises and taken to a dark vault.
Right now, California is preparing to fight for who its luminaries should be. This is not trivial; choice becomes an official indicator of who we think we are and what we believe California is or should strive to be.
These statues are the civilian version of the star team of our best citizens and heroes. Who does California already have in the game? Ronald Reagan, President Gipper, and Junipero Serra, Catholic saint and founder of the California mission system, who, in their quest to save their souls, too often cost Native Americans their land, their local customs and their lives.
Last year, activists tore down a statue of Serra on Olvera Street in Los Angeles, tied it with a rope like a rodeo calf, and tore it off the pedestal on which it had stood since 1932. It was pretty clear then that the Serra statue is over 2,000 miles away. in Washington DC, too, could fall.
We get used to our heroic monuments that revolve in it or not, and we wonder if our statues should be – or can they be – the greatest of all time? Or just great people of their time?
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Poor Thomas Starr King. In 1931, he and Serra became the first two statues of the Capitol in California. He, too, was a husband of God, a universalist priest who came to California in 1860, when she was at the height of history, viciously split in her sympathies – Lincoln won the state with just 700 votes in 1860. his worldly goods eluded the separatists, this could influence the outcome of the Civil War.
King was a shred of a man five feet zero, but “although I only weigh 120 pounds,” he promised that “when I’m angry, I weigh a ton.” He spent the four years remaining of his life wandering California to keep the state within the Union and championing the rights of Chinese and black Americans. In the summer, Harvard magazine quoted an unnamed black historian as saying King was “possibly the only truly anti-racist white Californian of his day.” His persuasive oratory conquered crowds of ten to twenty thousand people.
When he died in 1864, when the sculpture hall of fame opened in Washington, California declared three days of mourning. In a state of less than half a million people, 20,000 of them went to his funeral. “Keep my memory green,” he whispered on his deathbed. The peak in Yosemite bears his name. His statue in the Capitol, awarded in 2006 by the state legislature in favor of the bronze Ronald Reagan, now stands in Sacramento. But who remembers him now? Should every “eternal statue” have an expiration date?
Serra survived King in part because he was canonized in 2015, and what politician wanted to take on this divine magic? But when the Serra statue is gone – more “when” than “if” – who will stand on this empty pedestal in Washington? Kings again? If not, whose?
California is home to Nobel Prize winners, billionaires and artists of all stripes. We have no shortage of greatness. But a Capitol statue object must meet two criteria: be dead and have the blessing of the state legislature and the governor.
Back in 1931, the Van Nuys woman, described as a “housewife” and descendant of the noble Sepúlveda family, was acclaimed for inspiring state sororities and celebrities to support the Serra and King statues, The Times reported, “after overdoing merits. a dozen or more historical names. ” It is teasing and annoying that none of these names have been listed.
Who are they? How would they rate today? How many of the august bronze figures do not have feet of clay? Whose character will stand the test of the present and protect himself in the future?
Someone – perhaps some of the French – coined what we know as “No man is a hero to his valet,” which means that no human greatness can stand up to scrutiny. Perhaps no man (or woman) can be the hero of history forever.
However, some men whose faults you think we all agree on are more than significant and are in favor to this day. In 1931, the Serra and King statues took their places in the US Capitol, as did the statue of a man accused of high treason but never convicted: Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederation. 1931 was 70 years after Davis abruptly gave up his Senate seat when his state withdrew from the Union, and also the year the Mississippi returned him in bronze as one of two iconic figures in the Capitol, comparing him favorably with Abraham Lincoln. No modern anxiety has yet been able to get rid of it.
Since 2000, states have been allowed to change their statues, which is how Reagan ousted King. Nine Native American statues are or will soon be there, including King Kamehameha I of Hawaii and Cherokee-born Oklahoma comedian Will Rogers. There are more statues of former Confederates than African Americans.
So who is it supposed to be, California? Who can stand there for centuries and resist them? Biddy Mason, born into slavery, becomes one of the richest and most philanthropic women in Los Angeles? Sally Ride, the first American woman in space? Isadora Duncan, an artist and feminist decades ahead of her time? Cesar Chavez, co-founder with Dolores Huerta of the groundbreaking United Farm Workers?
John Muir, who would have been a first-class environmentalist and naturalist, lost his chance because, as the Sierra Club he founded, “is not immune to the racism promoted by many in the early conservation movement.”
We have a deep bench. I heard shouts at Kobe Bryant, Joe DiMaggio, Steve Jobs, Ray Kroc, Earl Warren and Rabbi Edgar Magnin.
I have always favored Toipurina, the Tongwa medicine woman who helped lead the rebellion against the San Gabriel Mission, and explained why: “I am angry with the priests and all members of the mission for living here in my homeland. for encroachment on the land of my ancestors and the plundering of our ancestral possessions. “
If Serra gets hooked, one thing we shouldn’t do is put his replacement on a public vote. If you think the 135-candidate revocable 2003 election was an electoral frenzy, imagine the chaos that comes with it.
This single question will drown out any serious, trivial, dollar and cent questions on the ballot papers. The living candidates for the posts would have to join the dead candidates for the statues. It is possible that Californians will vote for Mickey Mouse or Marilyn Monroe.
Think about it …