SAN FRANCISCO—Golden Gate Park was the scene of several instances of public dissent on the evening of Juneteenth when a group of people toppled and vandalized three statues of historical figures located in the park.
On Friday, June 19, the crowds brought down statues of Francis Scott Key, Junípero Serra, and Ulysses S. Grant. Viral video footage and pictures have been circulating of the statue toppling.
The video shows the 30-foot effigy of Serra holding a cross by his side that crowds latched a purple rope onto in order to pull the statue off of its platform. The closer the statue gets to being tugged to the ground, the louder the cheering of crowds in the background becomes.
Serra was a Spanish priest of the 18th century who established nine religious missions in present-day California. In September 2015, Serra was canonized by Pope Francis, officially declaring Serra to be a saint. However, amid his religious honors, the Spanish priest’s legacy has been fraught with controversy, especially among Native Americans, because of the violent colonization practices and other exploitation in which he engaged in order to set up his missions.
A picture of Grant’s Golden Gate Park bust lying in the street has also been distributed around Twitter. The bust’s platform was vandalized with the letters “ACAB” spray-painted in white and black.
Grant was the 18th president of the United States and a commanding general of the Union Army during the Civil War. Grant had a leading role in bringing the Union to victory over the Confederate States in the Civil War and served two terms as president thereafter from 1869 to 1877. Grant had one slave named William Jones before the Civil War began. In 1859, Jones obtained his freedom from Grant.
The toppling of the Francis Scott Key statue was also caught on video. The statue was graffitied with the words “slaveowner” painted in red with a black “X” through it, as well as the words “Kill all colonizers.” Cheering crowds surrounded the fallen statue. According to Joe Rivano Barros, who tweeted the videos and pictures that have gone viral, just before the statue came down, a police officer stated, “You’ve made your point, we’re not gonna let you pull this statue down.”
Key was an American lawyer and the lyricist behind “The Star-Spangled Banner,” which became the United States’ national anthem in 1931. Key was also a slave owner and, as a lawyer, often took on cases to defend slavery, as described by the Smithsonian.
The morning after these events, on Saturday, June 20, the parks department facilitated and oversaw a clean-up effort to straighten up the damaged areas of the park.