McKinley could be voted off his Plaza pedestal

Andrew George Butler
Mad River Union

ARCATA – A fresh move is afoot to have the statue of President William McKinley removed from the Arcata Plaza.

Arcata resident Emilee Quackenbush is in the process of drafting a petition asking that the McKinley statue be taken down.

Quackenbush said she was moved by a vigil held on the Plaza a few weeks ago for Josiah Lawson, who was stabbed to death April 15. She said that after speaking with people at the vigil it became clear to her that the McKinley statue didn’t belong.

She said many of the people attending the vigil didn’t find the statue to be in line with their values.

“Why is his history more important than the vast history and stories of the people of color who lived here before us?” Quackenbush said.

On Monday, after the Union went to press, Quackenbush was scheduled to meet with members of the Seventh Generation Fund for Indigenous People, an internationally recognized advocacy group based in Arcata. A year ago in October, Seventh Generation wrote an open letter declaring the second Monday of October “Indigenous Peoples’ Day... in Wiyot traditional territories.” The end of the letter read, “Demands, real change not just a name change, beginning with but not limited to the immediate removal of the McKinley statue.”

Arcata City Councilmember Brett Watson said he has heard the clamor over McKinley before, and said that there is only one way to measure the public’s attitude toward the statue.  “We should put it to a vote, do it the democratic way, let the people who live here decide,” he said.

In a related matter, the City of Arcata’s Historic Landmarks Committee is in the process of drafting a proposal to certify the entire Plaza, including the controversial McKinley statue, as a historical landmark.

The committee took its first view at a draft proposal outlining how and why the Plaza qualifies as a historical landmark on Aug. 17.  The draft proposal, a work in progress since spring of this year, notes the McKinley statue and the historic water fountain as “items of consequence.”

Alyson Hunter, a liaison to the committee from Arcata’s Community Development Department, said of the committee’s work, “The city is focusing on the Plaza as a whole, not just the statue.”

Hunter said the proposal is still in its early stages, and that “the council has the final say.” Placing a historical site on the Historical Landmarks list earns it a place on the state registry.

The designation would make it much more difficult, although not impossible, to remove or relocate the statue. An “item of consequence” within a historical landmark site is considered a notable part of that landmark, and thereby subject to more stringent policies regarding its removal or alteration.

Committeemember William Rich said, “we don’t want to be mistaken as if we are making the statue untouchable.”

In 1895, 11 years before the McKinley statue was installed, Arcata resident Charles Murdock wrote to the Arcata Union, “The Plaza should be a thing of beauty and a center of life and interest. No building should rest upon it, but green sword, and well kept walks, a fountain, shrubs, and trees should be so attractive that it would be the pride of every citizen.”


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