Think Confederate Monuments are Racist? Consider Pioneer Monuments

‘Early Days.’ Detail of Frank Happersberger’s pioneer monument, San Francisco, California, 1894. Photo by Lisa Allen. Cynthia Prescott,  CC BY-SA

‘Early Days.’ Detail of Frank Happersberger’s pioneer monument, San Francisco, California, 1894. Photo by Lisa Allen. Cynthia Prescott, CC BY-SA

In San Francisco, there is an an 800-ton monument that retells California history, from the Spanish missions to American settlement. Several bronze sculptures and relief plaques depict American Indians, white miners, missionaries and settlers. A female figure symbolizing white culture stands atop a massive stone pillar.

The design of the “pioneer monument” was celebrated in newspapers across the country when it was erected in 1894. Today, however, activists have argued that the monument – particularly its depiction of a Spanish missionary and Mexican “vaquero,” or cowboy, towering over an American Indian – is demeaning to American Indians.

Frank Happersberger’s pioneer monument, San Francisco, California, 1894. Lisa Allen.

Frank Happersberger’s pioneer monument, San Francisco, California, 1894. Lisa Allen.

Should the city take down part of this 125-year-old monument?

Many cities are removing or reinterpreting their Confederate monuments, with the understanding that they commemorate racism. But few Americans realize that pioneer monuments placed across the country are also racist.

As my research and forthcoming book on pioneer monuments since the 1890s show, most early pioneer statues celebrated whites dominating American Indians.

Confederate and pioneer monuments

Since at least 2015, cities across the United States have debated what to do with more than 700 Confederate monuments.

After the Civil War, grieving widows raised funds to place monuments to soldiers in southern cemeteries. But most statues of Confederate leaders and foot soldiers were put up around 1900 by heritage organizations to honor the “Lost Cause.”

The “Lost Cause” is the idea that that the Civil War began as a heroic defense against northern aggression. In fact, the Civil War was primarily fought to defend slavery.

In the past few years, cities such as New Orleans, Louisiana and Baltimore, Maryland have chosen to remove their Confederate statues. Activists tore down a Confederate soldier statue in Durham, North Carolina last year.

By contrast, there has been far less attention on the roughly 200 pioneer monuments erected for similar reasons around the same time.

Screen Shot 2019-09-06 at 2.32.30 PM.png

The earliest pioneer monuments were put up in midwestern and western cities such as Des Moines, Iowa and San Francisco, California. They date from the 1890s and early 1900s, as whites settled the frontier and pushed American Indians onto reservations.

Those statues showed white men claiming land and building farms and cities in the West. They explicitly celebrated the dominant white view of the Wild West progressing from American Indian “savagery” to white “civilization.”

Deviations from that script produced public controversy. For example, Denver residents in 1907 vocally opposed prominent American sculptor Frederick MacMonnies’s plan for a pioneer monument. MacMonnies proposed a large stone pillar surrounded by bronze hunters, miners and settlers similar to San Francisco’s celebrated monument. MacMonnies’s model included a mounted Plains American Indian warrior atop the pillar to show American Indians yielding to white settlement.

But Denver residents expected the figure at the top of the pillar to represent the pinnacle of progress, like “Eureka,” the female figure representing the spirit of California on San Francisco’s monument.

Denver’s residents argued that the monument needed a white man on top, so MacMonnies revised his design, replacing the American Indian warrior with frontiersman and American Indian fighter Kit Carson, on horseback.

August Leimbach, Madonna of the Trail, Springfield, Ohio, 1928.

August Leimbach, Madonna of the Trail, Springfield, Ohio, 1928.

By the 1920s, whites controlled most western lands, and they stopped depicting American Indians in their pioneer monuments. New pioneer monuments from Maryland to California focused on western women. Pioneer mothers in sunbonnets stood for white “civilization” winning in the West. And they offered a conservative model of womanhood to contrast flappers wearing short dresses and bobbed hair and women’s growing sexual freedom.

More recent monuments, such as Goodland, Kansas’s “They Came to Stay” and Omaha, Nebraska’s “Pioneer Courage,” do not directly engage racial politics. As their titles suggest, these statues honor pioneer families’ grit, and they teach local history.

But these statues still represent a racist view, ignoring the cost of white settlement on Native lands. Like earlier monuments, they reinforce white dominance and erase ethnic diversity in the American West.

Pioneer monuments today

The recent debate about Confederate monuments has sparked some discussion of pioneer monuments in a few places. In April, Kalamazoo, Michigan removed its 1940 “Fountain of the Pioneers” because local residents disliked its depiction of a white settler looming over an American Indian.

After decades of protest, San Francisco debated taking down the depiction of a Spanish missionary towering over an American Indian from the 1894 pioneer monument.

In the 1990s, activists persuaded the city to place a plaque telling the dark side of California history in front of the statue. But today’s protesters argued that plaque, hidden by landscaping, is not enough. They want “Early Days” – if not the entire monument – taken down.

The San Francisco Arts Commission agrees, but the Board of Appeals blocked its removal in April.

On September 14, 2018, the “Early Days” statue was removed from the San Francisco monument and placed in storage. In April 2019, about 150 Native American leaders and youth from across California posed for photographs on the empty base where “Early Days” once stood. The photos will be part of the San Francisco Art Commission’s American Indian Initiative.

Each pioneer monument has its own history and local meaning. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. But communities are beginning to consider removing or reinterpreting these monuments to white conquest.

CYNTHIA PRESCOTT is an Associate Professor of History at the University of North Dakota.


Does Humanitarian Aid Have a 'White Saviour' Problem?

American missionary Renee Bach travelled to Uganda in 2007 when she was just 18 years-old and founded Serving His Children (SHC), a nonprofit organisation she said would help Ugandan women care for ill and malnourished children. Critics, though, say Bach, who had no experience in either development work or medicine, performed complicated medical procedures on hundreds of children.

In 2015, Ugandan authorities closed SHC's facility in the town of Jinja - where a number of children were reported to have died - but the organisation still operates in other parts of the country. A lawsuit brought by two women who say their children died under SHC’s care has been adjourned until January 2020, according to the Uganda-based legal services group Women’s Probono Initiative.

Bach’s case has again highlighted the issue of medical "voluntourism", while raising questions of whether some charities in the developing world have a “white saviour problem”. In response, Uganda-based social workers Olivia Alaso and Kelsey Nielsen began the No White Saviors campaign to educate and advocate for better practices in mission and development work.

In this episode, The Stream takes a look at why some Westerners get to work in the developing world without adequate experience, and what groups like No White Saviors are doing to hold them accountable.

Fresh Wounds: Incident at Beach is Newest Example of Strained Race Relations in South Africa

Clifton 4th Beach, in Cape Town. Warren Rohner. CC BY-SA 2.0.

Clifton 4th Beach, in Cape Town. Warren Rohner. CC BY-SA 2.0.

Recently a group of protesters took to the shores of the Clifton 4th beach, one of the more popular beaches in Cape Town, to complain about what they perceived to be racial profiling at the hands of a local security firm. Professional Protection Alternatives, or PPA, was apparently hired by local residents to clear out all black visitors to the beach shortly before Christmas of last year. The security company responded to these allegations, claiming that they were simply trying to protect nearby residents from crime. The incident has stirred up tensions in Cape Town that still linger from South Africa’s recent history with Apartheid.

Apartheid, which means “separateness” or “apartness” in Afrikaans, was a system of institutionalized racism that pervaded in South Africa from 1948 until the early 1990s. Also known as “White Minority Rule,” it was primarily used to ensure the dominion of white South Africans over their black counterparts. Policies included the segregation of parks, beaches, and other public places. The system was dismantled by activists like former president Nelson Mandela but the visitors who were removed from the beach felt that the actions of PPA were reminiscent of the Cape Town of old. Dan Plato, the current mayor of Cape Town, spoke publicly about the incident, claiming that PPA had no right to remove anyone from the beach, but also defended the security firm, stating that the removals were not racially motivated. Meanwhile, Patricia de Lille, the former mayor of Cape Town, joined in the protests, encouraging all who were removed from the beach to press charges against PPA. De Lille stated that actions of the firm went against “hard-won constitutional rights.” In a country with such a recent history of racial conflict, it doesn't take much to re-open old wounds.

Former president Nelson Mandela was instrumental in the ending of Apartheid. South Africa The Good News / . CC BY 2.0.

Former president Nelson Mandela was instrumental in the ending of Apartheid. South Africa The Good News / CC BY 2.0.

The incident at Clifton is the latest in a series of racial altercations that have occurred in South Africa. In 2016, real estate agent Penny Sparrow described black South Africans as “uneducated monkeys” in a Facebook post. Sparrow was charged with Crimen Injuria, the willful impairment of another person’s dignity. At her hearing, Sparrow said that she would “strive to be a better citizen, respecting others and working toward making our country a better place.” In August of 2018, Johannesburg businessman Adam Catzavelos caused an uproar on social media when he posted a video of himself at a beach in Greece and expressed his relief that there were no black people there. Catzavelos’ family promptly fired him from their food manufacturing company and expressed outrage over his comments before going into hiding to avoid potential backlash. Despite South Africa’s recent steps toward tolerance, racism is still an overarching issue that hinders relations between the many ethnicities that make the country their home.

Protesters at the Clifton 4th beach marched, chanted, and even sacrificed a sheep in their demonstrations against racism in Cape Town. They claimed the guards employed by PPA were specifically briefed to keep blacks from other townships from patronizing the beach, claims which have yet to be substantiated. Their protests have drawn the support of the Economic Freedom Fighters, or EFF, an organization devoted to humanitarian issues in South Africa. Other organizations, such as the Black Land First group have also voiced their support for the protesters on Clifton beach, though their views are considered by many to be more radical from those of the EFF. Meanwhile, some citizens of Cape Town plan to press animal cruelty charges against the protesters for slaying the sheep. These events are a prime example of how quickly recently formed ties can unravel.

JONATHAN ROBINSON is an intern at CATALYST. He is a travel enthusiast always adding new people, places, experiences to his story. He hopes to use writing as a means to connect with others like himself. 

Screen Shot 2018-11-26 at 4.06.36 PM.png

‘This is Africa’: Depictions of Blacks in Mainland China

Earlier this year, Black Panther premiered in theaters around the world. The latest in a string of comic book-themed films turned out to be more of a cultural event than a mere movie. Black Panther broke records in the United States, as well as Great Britain, North and South Korea, and East and West Africa, dispelling the long-held Hollywood myth that “black films don’t travel.” Though fictional, the film struck a chord with audiences, as it featured a predominantly black cast and did not put them into the stereotypical roles often lamented by moviegoers. The film, however, was not as successful in Mainland China. Despite the fact that China is a major trading partner with the African continent, many Chinese moviegoers bristled at the idea of seeing Africans up close.

Chadwick Boseman, star of the movie  Black Panther , appearing at Comic-Con in San Diego. Gaga Skidmore. CC BY SA-2.0

Chadwick Boseman, star of the movie Black Panther, appearing at Comic-Con in San Diego. Gaga Skidmore. CC BY SA-2.0

China was relatively closed to foreign trade until Deng Xiaoping's economic reform in 1978. Because of this, interactions with non-Chinese people are still a relatively new phenomenon. There is also a traditional standard in China that equates lighter skin with a comfortable, indoor lifestyle, and darker skin with peasantry, having to labor in fields under the hot sun. This combined with exposure to western media creates an environment that can be less than hospitable to blacks. Last year, an exhibit at the Hubei Provincial Museum in Wuhan titled, “This is Africa”, featured a portrait of a young African boy placed next to the portrait of a monkey. The exhibit was visited by over 100,000 people before criticism from the African community prompted museum officials to dismantle it, and the museum curator to take responsibility for the presentation. In February of this year, the same month Black Panther premiered, China’s Central China Television (CCTV) network came under fire when it aired a skit featuring a Chinese actor in blackface. Beijing issued a statement saying it was opposed to racism of any kind, but did not apologize for the skit.

Western nations are by no means immune to racial prejudice. While the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s attempted to resolve many of the racial schisms that split the United States, lingering prejudices remain in various parts of the country. In recent years, proponents of racism have become more desperate, and less discreet. In January, the president of the United States allegedly referred to El Salvador, Haiti, and various African nations as “shithole countries,” seemingly forgetting his role as chief diplomat. Perceptions of Africa, and by extension those of African descent, are still slanted by the media, and media still accounts for much of the world’s education. This creates a quandary for those who have to live day-to-day under the banner of these stereotypes.

The CCTV building in Beijing. Verdgris. CC BY SA-3.0

The CCTV building in Beijing. Verdgris. CC BY SA-3.0

There are some things that we believe because it serves us to believe them. Racism today is more than mere ideology. Like sexism, racism has evolved into a cultural standard, feeding into a lifestyle standard that is enjoyed, or not enjoyed, by millions of people around the world. As we begin to tinker with the idea racism, we also tinker with the standards it creates in our societies-some people are bound to get upset. At the same time, this tinkering opens new possibilities for growth, for all the parties it applies to. It refutes old characterizations of people and cultures and encourages us to make connections that we may not have considered before. All change involves a degree of pain and uncertainty, but we can only move forward, confident that the benefits of our efforts will justify the challenges.

JONATHAN ROBINSON is an intern at CATALYST. He is a travel enthusiast always adding new people, places, experiences to his story. He hopes to use writing as a means to connect with others like himself. 

Screen Shot 2018-11-26 at 4.06.36 PM.png

Indigenous Women in Canada Have Filed a Class Action Lawsuit Over Coerced Sterilization

This practice has affected over 60 women and is a product of racism in Canada’s medical system.

Royal University Hospital in Saskatchewan, Canada. Wendy Cooper. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Royal University Hospital in Saskatchewan, Canada. Wendy Cooper. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

While Canada is known for its progressive policies surrounding human rights and health care, this assumption can often lead to overlooking the country’s history of institutionalized discrimination against indigenous people.

Recently, sixty women have come forward to join a class action lawsuit against doctors in Saskatchewan demanding compensation for forced sterilization. According to a report in the Guardian, these women have had their fallopian tubes tied, burned, or cut, in public government funded hospitals when they were unable to properly consent. This practice not only violates medical ethics, but Canadian law. Although this practice was exposed in 2015, reported cases have continued up to 2017.

In an interview with NPR, Alisa Lombard, the lawyer representing the women said that, “while they were in the throes of labor, they would be approached, pressured, harassed to sign consent forms [for sterilization] in some cases. In other cases, there was no such signing of a consent form. And in yet other cases, they would revoke consent either on the operating table or shortly after they had actually signed.”

This new occurrence of forced sterilization follows a disturbing trend of forced or coerced sterilization that has disproportionately affected - if not only affected - women of color, women with disabilities, incarcerated women, and indigenous women. It stems from the eugenics movement of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries that used racist and ableist ideology to justify forced sterilization of people that were not seen as ‘fit’ to reproduce. The perpetuation of this warped and inhumane theory has become clearly evident in Canada’s upcoming lawsuit.

According to Lombard, “When Indigenous women go in for these health care services and reproductive health care services in the most vulnerable state, I think, a woman can be - having gone through childbirth myself, I can say that this is not the time to have a conversation about whether you ever want to do that again. There are other better times. And so why it happens in one simple word, I think we can just say discrimination - racism, quite plainly.”

Lombard and her team uncovered that Saskatchewan health cards are embossed with a capital R. She says that the R is part of a historic practice indicating that the person holding it is registered as an indigenous person. Thus, the patient’s identity is readily available to their doctor.

While the lawsuit has yet to be certified, Amnesty International said that they would lobby the UN Committee Against Torture in order to pressure the Canadian government to act. According to Amnesty’s Jacqueline Hansen, the organization has examined comparable instances of coerced or forced sterilization in Mexico, Chile, and Peru.

“It’s always done for a very specific reason. It is clear that it’s been linked to policies around wanting to ensure a group of people doesn’t reproduce,” Hansen told the Guardian. “Ultimately, this is about women who are supposed to have the right to make decisions about their bodies, having that right taken away from them.”

EMMA BRUCE is an undergraduate student studying English and marketing at Emerson College in Boston. While not writing she explores the nearest museums, reads poetry, and takes classes at her local dance studio. She is passionate about sustainable travel and can't wait to see where life will take her.

emma bruce.png

Health Care Inequalities Impact Indigenous Communities

What are the Effects of Racism In Health Care Delivery in Canada and the US?

Research released the week of July 1 suggested health care inequalities among indigenous communities extended beyond the Northwest Territories’—where around half the population is indigenous—to all of Canada. The research says racism, in particular implicit racism, has contributed to unnecessary deaths among indigenous communities. Dr. Smylie, a Métis doctor and researcher, commented that “the most important and dangerous kinds of racism that people encounter is actually racism that's hidden.”

Yet implicit racism is not new: it has been the focal point of past studies, most notably the 2015 Wellesley Institute study “First Peoples, Second Class Treatment” also led by Dr. Smylie. The study suggested indigenous people either strategized their visits or avoided care completely due to the frequency of experienced racism. Such racism was commonly felt in a “pro-white basis,” according to Dr. Smylie, and negative stereotypes that originated in colonial government policies like segregation.

Michelle Labrecque’s prescription for severe stomach pain was merely a message to not drink (source: CBC news).

Michelle Labrecque’s prescription for severe stomach pain was merely a message to not drink (source: CBC news).

The findings of the 2015 Wellesley study underlined the unnecessary death of elder Hugh Papik in 2016. Even though Papik did not have a history of drinking, Papik’s stroke was mistaken for drunkenness. His death prompted an external investigation that made 16 recommendations for the Government of the Northwestern Territories. Four of the recommendations focused specifically on fostering relations between indigenous communities and health care professionals. All but two were adopted.

The recommendations included training staff—“policies for implementation of mandatory and ongoing culture safety training… in partnership with the Indigenous community”—in hopes of breaking down the root issue of systemic racism by confronting stereotypes. According to health minister Glen Abernethy, training will do so by incorporating information about the different cultures of the territory as well as a history of colonization for non-indigenous staff. In addition to the training, Abernethy hopes to increase the number of indigenous staff in the future by encouraging young locals to pursue medical careers so that they might return and serve their communities.

However, the messy entanglement of racism and health care is not unique to Canada. A 2017 survey by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found 23% of Native Americans faced discrimination when “going to [the] doctor or health clinic” in the US.  

Even though the US federal government is obligated, through treaty agreements, to provide for the health of Native Americans, the IHS itself is too underfunded to provide adequate care. A 2014 study stated that “Long-term underfunding of the IHS is a contributing factor to AI/AN health disparities.”  Indeed, for people like Anna Whiting Sorrell who have struggled to get treatment in the past, it is no surprise that “a lot of American Indians simply put up with …“‘tolerated illness.’” Other care alternatives are also difficult to access as the American health care system makes it hard for many Native Americans to obtain care in the private sector.

Cartoon depicting the waiting room of an IHS facility-- and the struggles of the system (Source: Marty Two Bulls).

Cartoon depicting the waiting room of an IHS facility-- and the struggles of the system (Source: Marty Two Bulls).

And while some communities have successfully started looking inwards at traditional forms of healing and eating to improve health, it is evident that many are doing so because outside systems of support are inadequate or nonexistent. Although Canada is actively trying to address inequalities in its health care, the US has yet to do so.


TERESA NOWALK is a student at the University of Virginia studying anthropology and history. In her free time she loves traveling, volunteering in the Charlottesville community, and listening to other people’s stories. She does not know where her studies will take her, but is certain writing will be a part of whatever the future has in store.

Screen Shot 2018-07-06 at 9.14.19 AM.png