As anticipated, the San Francisco Arts Commission voted unanimously Monday to remove the “Early Days” statue from Civic Center’s Pioneer Monument, placing the century-plus old bronze figures in storage until a long-term decision about their fate can be made.
The decision caps off a six-month long debate, after some San Franciscans approached the commission in August 2017 to complain about the statue, which features a pious but patronizing scene of a Spanish missionary helping a beaten Indian to his feet and pointing him toward heaven.
In February the city’s Historic Preservation Commission voted unanimously to recommend removing “Early Days” despite some commissioners expressing reservations about whether the sculpture has additional value as an expose of 19th century racism.
Argument over the “Early Days” scene dates back decades and the city considered removing the figures once before, according to an Arts Commission report on the statue released in February:
The “Early Days” sculpture grouping has been a longstanding point of concern for the community. Extensive debate occurred [...] in 1990‐1996 when the Pioneer Monument was relocated to its current site in order to make way for the construction of the New Main Library.
In August 2017, almost immediately following the events in Charlottesville, North Carolina surrounding the removal of a monument to Confederate general Robert E. Lee, the Arts Commission began receiving renewed requests from the public to remove the “Early Days” sculpture from the Pioneer Monument.
At the core of the repeated requests for removal is 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.
The Arts Commission voted in October to begin considering removal; a series of unanimous votes since then means that the final days for “Early Days” are fast approaching. The rest of Pioneer Monument will remain intact.