Lincoln statue defaced at San Francisco City Hall


Jill Tucker

San Francisco Chronicle

Dec. 28—A statue of Abraham Lincoln at San Francisco City Hall was defaced over the weekend, the former president’s face and name covered in shiny red paint.

The incident reflects a growing debate over the legacy of the Civil War president in San Francisco, including a proposal to rename Lincoln High.

The timing also corresponds to the Dec. 26, 1862, anniversary of the hanging of 38 Sioux warriors during the Lincoln administration and the Dakota Uprising.

The San Francisco Sheriff’s Department received a report about someone painting the statue on Saturday just before 1 p.m., but the suspect had fled by the time deputies arrived, officials said.

The damage was superficial and city workers cleaned it up Monday, and the investigation into the incident is ongoing, the Sheriff’s Department said.

The marring of the statue is the latest in a broader reassessment of the nation’s history and racist past, which also included the San Francisco school district’s hotly debated decision to cover a Washington High School mural depicting slavery and Native American mistreatment.

A similar statue of Lincoln was vandalized in Spokane, Wash., on Thanksgiving Day, the same day a statue of George Washington was toppled in Minneapolis. In Boston and Washington, D.C., many have called for the removal of Emancipation memorials, which each include an African American man kneeling at Lincoln’s feet.

The controversy over Lincoln in San Francisco, and specifically the proposed renaming of his namesake school, drew national attention following a Chronicle story, with President Trump posting several tweets about the issue.

Lincoln High School is one of 44 school sites in the city that could get a new name based on a recommendation from a school district task force.

The current school names, including Washington, Balboa and Jefferson, have connections to slavery, genocide or oppression and should be changed, according to a committee recommendation heading to the school board in January.

For many, Lincoln was a shocking addition to the list, given his role in freeing slaves during the Civil War and his revered status among historians and politicians, including former President Barack Obama, who called him “the most remarkable of men,” and “my homeboy from Illinois.”

Many alumni, among others, are opposed to the renaming.

“The committee members are applying 2020 thinking to the legacy of Lincoln and others and that is ridiculous,” said Jeffrey Dake, class of 1966. “The fact that Lincoln ended slavery and kept the Union together more than justifies his being considered as one of the country’s greatest presidents ever and certainly worthy of having a school named after him.”

Jeremiah Jeffries, who led the renaming committee, sees Lincoln through a different lens.

He said he doesn’t believe Lincoln cared about Black lives or that the Civil War was fought over slavery, but rather “wealth building.”

“He was not the best of his time, and he is no hero or liberator of Black people,” he said. “He is a person white people want Black people to look up to as a hero and liberator.”

The San Francisco committee, however, cited Lincoln’s actions — or lack thereof — related to Native American policies as the primary reason to rename the school.

While many historians agree that Lincoln was more enlightened about Native Americans than his 19th century peers, he still contributed to the slaughter and taking of indigenous lands.

Lincoln authorized the hanging of 38 Dakota Sioux warriors after a bloody battle against U.S. forces. But Lincoln supporters note that a military tribunal initially sentenced 303 Native American men to death. The president insisted on reviewing each legal case personally, before commuting all but 38 of the sentences.

For Sarah Weston, the historic moment is personal. Her great-great grandfather was among those Lincoln spared.

“I’ve known about this all my life,” said Weston, who co-directed a documentary about the mass hanging and the annual remembrance. “For me and my family, that moment in history is exactly why I’m at where I’m at.”

Despite her ancestor’s survival, she doesn’t like Lincoln — or any U.S. president.

Lincoln has a mixed history, said Sherry Salway Black, who has worked for more than 40 years in Native American economic and community development and currently serves on the boards of four organizations that work on issues important to Native peoples.

“I feel like yes, he made the decision that 38 of 303 Indian men should be executed, she said. “He also was very deliberate in his review of the cases.”

That doesn’t dismiss the 38 who were hanged, however, she said.

The district is expected to decide on which names to change by the end of January and then give those school communities until April to come up with alternative names, said school board President Mark Sanchez.

Sanchez said he expects some names to fall off the list and looks forward to the public conversation.

“I’m definitely open to having a discussion,” he said. “I might be persuaded by the conversation.”

___

(c)2020 the San Francisco Chronicle

Visit the San Francisco Chronicle at www.sfchronicle.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.