Historic Markers at SB Courthouse Celebrate Colonial Exploits of "White Men...White Women, Children"

Historic Markers at SB Courthouse Celebrate Colonial Exploits of "White Men...White Women, Children" title=
Plaque at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse (Photo: Oscar Gutierrez)
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By Jerry Roberts of Newsmakers

A few yards from a busy entrance to the historic Santa Barbara County Courthouse, two weather-worn plaques, affixed to a sandstone boulder, attest to California's Spanish Colonial period -- in words that seem painful and problematic in our present moment.

The inscription on the older of the two plaques, rendered in all capital letters, reads as follows:

"IN HONOR OF GOV. GASPAR DE PORTOLA
HIS OFFICERS AND SOLDIERS AND
FRAY JUAN CRESPI (DIARIST) THE
FIRST WHITE MEN TO MARCH
THROUGH THE WILDERNESS OF
CALIFORNIA, ARRIVED AT SANTA
BARBARA AUG. 18-20, 1769 AND
CAMPED IN THIS VICINITY.
SANTA BARBARA CHAPTER
DAUGHTERS OF THE
AMERICAN REVOLUTION
1927".
Photo: Oscar Gutierrez

The second, attached to the opposite side of the stone, reads:

"IN HONOR OF
THE FIRST WHITE WOMEN AND
CHILDREN OF THE THIRTY FAMILIES
WHO MARCHED THROUGH CALIFORNIA
WITH THE COLONIZATION EXPEDITION
OF
JUAN BAUTISTA DE ANZA
AND CAMPED NEAR HERE MAY 1776
SANTA BARBARA CHAPTER
DAUGHTERS OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION
1938".

An alert Newsmakers reader, who requested anonymity, sent us an image of one of the panels, concerned about the message it sends, particularly at a time of nationwide unrest over racism and the removal and tearing down of Confederate statues and other historic markers.

"Plaque greeting visitors to the Courthouse!" they wrote, protesting the presence of the marker on the grounds of Santa Barbara's most iconic landmark, visited by thousands of tourists a year,

Photo: Oscar Gutierrez

Gregg's outraged

Objecting to "the offensive, racist language" of the plaques, Board of Supervisors President Gregg Hart told us last night that he intends to see they are "removed as soon as possible" from the Courthouse grounds.

"I'd like them removed as soon as tomorrow," Hart told Newsmakers.

The 1927 plaque, dated two years before the Courthouse was completed, is catalogued on the Historical Marker Database, which describes more than 115,000 historical markers in the nation; the listing notes other plaques on the grounds, including "The First Ruling Sovereign of Europe to Visit America," "President Reagan Meets Queen Elizabeth II" and "Tympanum."

Portola was a soldier and administrator of Spain's Viceroyalty of New Spain colony, who explored and expanded its Las Californias province far north, from Baja California to San Francisco Bay.

The 1938 plaque is along the route of the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail, which recalls the 1,200 mile expedition of the New Spain military officer that established the first colonial settlement near San Francisco. The trail is managed by the National Park Service; the Courthouse marker, however, is not listed on its website, although five other sites in Santa Barbara County, including El Presidio de Santa Barbara, are.

"My first reaction to seeing the plaques was total confusion," said City Council member Oscar Gutierrez, who kindly took fresh photos of both plaques for a quarantined Newsmakers geezer after we showed him the image we were sent.

"Why would the Daughters of the American Revolution be honoring a Spanish colonizer's religious mission on public and state land? Why are those facts not noted on the plaques but their skin color is?" he said. "The plaques don't seem to be completely historically accurate or acknowledge the consequences of the colonizers' actions. I'm glad the county is taking action."

The DAR

California members of the Daughters of the American Revolution have been active in sponsoring other markers and sites of the historic trail around the state.

Founded in 1890, after women were rejected for membership in the Sons of the American Revolution, DAR is a non-profit that, among other activities, promotes historic preservation. Membership, which the group claims at more than 1 million women, is based on genealogy: new members must prove "lineal descent from a patriot of the American Revolution."

Viewed as a conservative organization, the DAR in the last century had a fraught history of racism, and did not admit a Black member until 1977.

Last month, however, amid the protests over the killing of George Floyd, a Black man, by a white police officer in Minneapolis, the organization released a statement called "The DAR's continuing commitment to equality," which stated that "our organization condemns racism. Bias, prejudice and intolerance have no place in the DAR or America."

Efforts to reach a DAR representative last night were unsuccessful.*

[Editor's Note: The below update by Jerry Roberts includes a response from DAR]


SB's DAR Leader Agrees Courthouse Markers Should Go -- Suggests Possible "Replacement Plaques"

The leader of Santa Barbara's Daughters of the American Revolution chapter on Monday agreed that two controversial plaques on the Courthouse grounds that celebrate the Spanish Colonial period should be removed.

Jane Frederick, Regent of the Mission Canyon Chapter of the DAR, told Newsmakers that the plaques, dated 1927 and 1938, were donated by now-defunct branches of the national non-profit group.

"We don't object," to the removal of the two markers, Frederick said. "The reconsideration of colonization is completely under scrutiny right now, and they need to come down."

As we reported earlier, the older marker commemorates the arrival in Santa Barbara of an expedition led by colonial governor Gaspar de Portola in 1769, identified as "the first white men to march through the wilderness of California." The other honors "the first white women and children who marched through California," and encamped nearby, with a group of families led by Juan Bautista de Anza in 1776.

After learning of the two markers, Board of Supervisors Chair Gregg Hart denounced their "racist and offensive language" and said he would see to their removal. Both he and Frederick confirmed Monday that they spoke after our post was published.

"He was really wanting to be reassured that we wouldn't object," to the removal, Frederick told us. "Jane supports removing the plaques," said Gregg.

A 1972 and 1976 member of the USA Olympic Track and Field Team, who set the first official world record in the women's heptathlon, Frederick said she became concerned about the language of the markers when she first learned of them after becoming active in the DAR several years ago; as the current chapter Regent, she said, she now has surveyed the executive board and there is "consensus" for supporting Hart's move.

The DAR is active in historic preservation and Frederick added that the local chapter will consider the appropriateness of a possible "plaque replacement" for the Courthouse marker; the group will "investigate whether the events honored were important enough" to deserve historic commemoration and, if so, determine what updated, "collaborative language" is appropriate for describing them.

"We'll talk about what's next," she added.

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sacjon Jul 14, 2020 05:40 PM
Historic Markers at SB Courthouse Celebrate Colonial Exploits of "White Men...White Women, Children"

REX - oh please, don't be simple. It's not that ALL white explorers and settlers were "bad," it's that those who did oppress, enslave, kill, rape, etc the indigenous people (ie, the ones that were here first) should not be celebrated. Committing genocide (or at least attempting to) is generally considered a "bad" quality in a person, wouldn't you agree? There are many white settlers and explorers who were able to settle and explore WITHOUT trying to destroy the people they found living here, take Lewis and Clark for example. Those white folks should be praised and honored, but what you're seeing in the news is the "bad" ones losing their statues, plaques, etc. Don't forget the difference between "all" and "some." That seems to be a problem with your ilk.

Humanitarian2003 Jul 14, 2020 04:48 PM
Historic Markers at SB Courthouse Celebrate Colonial Exploits of "White Men...White Women, Children"

I would like to see Alameda Padre Serra renamed to honor the many local indigenous citizens of California whose lives were enslaved by the Spaniards and who sacrificed their culture. One might also consider the impact of celebrating "Old Spanish Days" in the same light, as we have no right to glorify the imperialistic conquest of the indigenous cultures by having this event. Let's instead look at the lifestyle of the native peoples and imagine how much better off we all would be if we had honored that culture and followed their example of living in harmony with their environment and each other.

Bene Jul 15, 2020 08:12 PM
Historic Markers at SB Courthouse Celebrate Colonial Exploits of "White Men...White Women, Children"

I don't think there is the widespread discrimination against Native Americans today that your post seems to indicate. Yes, back in the day it was true. In my family, for example, my grandfather and great aunt were seriously messed up because their Native American mother was dumped by their father when he became a doctor and moved up in the world. They denied their Native Heritage at times, although not so much that they didn't teach my dad some traditional dances and their ideal of "animals have rights too," and "respect nature." That being said, from my generation onward, it is way cool to be Native American. A badge of honor and something to be very proud of. People are so desperate to be Native American the tribes are having daily chuckles at all those who want to be a part. Those people are roundly rejected by the way. The problem for many Native Americans is not that people actively discriminate, but that they are still stuck in poverty from the past. Well, at least the tribes I have relation to. But of course the Chumash (the ones allowed in the tribe) are richer than any whites I know. Friend of mine's wife is in the tribe, doesn't even have much actual Chumash, but she makes huge bucks for doing little. Life isn't fair no matter what your "color." Speaking of color, I am totally sick of hearing about racial discrimination when the correct assertion might be "cultural" discrimination. According to those who categorize these things, anthropologists, last I heard, there are three races --and Native Americans and Latinos are grouped in with the Caucasian "race."

a-1594837774 Jul 15, 2020 11:29 AM
Historic Markers at SB Courthouse Celebrate Colonial Exploits of "White Men...White Women, Children"

Much of the fighting among tribes in the American west occurred when white colonists pushed the people out of their lands in the East and South. Because Native people fought each other for territory is not a rationale to justify displacement and genocide by European colonists. My Métis father taught me was yes there are conflicts, and warriors are needed to protect the people, but life is sacred, from the smallest ant up. Harmony with nature and one another is the preferred lifestyle, as difficult as that may be. Not only do we need to remember the genocide, but work to eliminate the discrimination and prejudice suffered by his generation and Native people today.

a-1594836734 Jul 15, 2020 11:12 AM
Historic Markers at SB Courthouse Celebrate Colonial Exploits of "White Men...White Women, Children"

Much of the fighting amongst tribes in the American west occurred when white colonists pushed the people out of their lands in the East and South. My Métis father taught me was yes there are conflicts, and warriors are needed to protect the people, but life is sacred, from the smallest ant up. Harmony with nature and one another is the preferred lifestyle, as difficult as that may be. Not only do we need to remember the genocide, but work to eliminate the discrimination and prejudice suffered by his generation and Native people today.

a-1594830231 Jul 15, 2020 09:23 AM
Historic Markers at SB Courthouse Celebrate Colonial Exploits of "White Men...White Women, Children"

Old Spanish Days has long been a fund raising for local civic benefit organizations. It provide a way to invest in your local community - just look at the sponsors of the food booths. Ask them what their civic service projects are for the year and how important the Fiesta fund-raising operations have been - all volunteer and a huge amount of donated work to give back to the community. Just stay away if you don't like it; but don't bash it. And stop letting this new rash of unpermitted private sellers erode the civic service groups volunteer fund-raising efforts.

REX OF SB Jul 14, 2020 06:03 PM
Historic Markers at SB Courthouse Celebrate Colonial Exploits of "White Men...White Women, Children"

Can’t monkey with Old Spanish Days, HUMANITARIAN. It’s too much of a cash cow for the city. And I’ll agree—if ever something racially offensive should be “cancelled,” it’s OSD. So let’s just go on removing plaques and renaming streets, while the community benefits financially by annually celebrating the beginning of white dominance of indigenous people.

a-1594770694 Jul 14, 2020 04:51 PM
Historic Markers at SB Courthouse Celebrate Colonial Exploits of "White Men...White Women, Children"

Completely agree. The mission should have plaques, tributes, and honorings to those they enslaved and killed. They should invite the Chumash tribe and formally apologize. They should also stop molesting children and covering it up but that's for another thread. Old Spanish Days should seriously reconsider how it presents itself because its mostly a bunch of white people appropriating a culture.

Chip of SB Jul 14, 2020 03:36 PM
Historic Markers at SB Courthouse Celebrate Colonial Exploits of "White Men...White Women, Children"

Forget the plaques, the courthouse itself should be removed. There is no place for this symbolic tribute to Spanish colonialism in Santa Barbara in this day and age. Speaking of Spanish colonialism, I don’t think Santa Barbara is an appropriate name for our city anymore since it also is symbolic of European colonialism and the oppression of the native peoples by the missionaries.

a-1594847464 Jul 15, 2020 02:11 PM
Historic Markers at SB Courthouse Celebrate Colonial Exploits of "White Men...White Women, Children"

What is important is the intent of the plaque. It was donated by the Daughters of the Revolution in 1933. Take a quick peek at the DAR's wikipedia entry regarding the early 30's. They were an unabashedly racist group. Removing the plaque isn't as much about forgetting colonialism in Santa Barbara, or about taking away history--the DAR's goal in the 30s was to separate and divide, and that's why the plaque is bad. These were Karens of the 1930's. If they were around today, my guess is that they would be clamoring to build a wall, and protesting having to wear a mask. Sure, the city was likely complicit with allowing the plaque, but everybody should be questioning what the intent was to install it in the first place. That should be what is at the heart of the matter. As another example, look at the confederate statues installed by the Daughters of the Confederacy (different group, I know) during ~1900-1920. These were not meant as historical markers commemorating a war 50 years in the past, they were a way to remind black people of their place. They were a shot across the bow towards people of color to toe the line. They should be taken away and put in a museum, and not in a public place. I feel exactly the same about this plaque: it's less about "celebrating white people", and more about increasing the racial divide and keeping people of color in their place. Rip it out, and put it in a museum somewhere, where it can be shown along with other artifacts of its antiquated intent. Don't leave it in public view in our wonderful city without the proper context.

a-1594825600 Jul 15, 2020 08:06 AM
Historic Markers at SB Courthouse Celebrate Colonial Exploits of "White Men...White Women, Children"

Does she have a connection to the street, Rex? The renaming reminds of when Jim Kahan, an attorney, got into a major snit because Magnolia Street in San Roque was renamed Dixon Street. ...Of course, he lived on that street - it appeared it had nothing to do with a love for plants but a perceived increase of value of his property. That's always the way: it's one own ox one cares about, not the city's as a whole.

PitMix Jul 15, 2020 07:37 AM
Historic Markers at SB Courthouse Celebrate Colonial Exploits of "White Men...White Women, Children"

Rex is mad as heck and he's not going to take it anymore! Perhaps the reference to "White" people is the racist part? All the good any Caucasians did was built on killing, using for slave labor, and taking the land of anyone who was here first. CA was paying bounties on Native American scalps for goodness sakes! I personally wouldn't mind leaving the plaques and posting something next to them to put them in historical context. But I bet that the same people who don't want those plaques removed would also be very upset at any info provided on the adjacent plaques. Maybe a guilty conscience?

REX OF SB Jul 14, 2020 04:03 PM
Historic Markers at SB Courthouse Celebrate Colonial Exploits of "White Men...White Women, Children"

CHIP, you're absolutely right! Any positive reference to Europeans who settled in Santa Barbara must be totally stricken, as they never did anything good. Indigenous people good. White people bad. Get used to it. The one thing that puzzles me is what is "racist" about the plaque? Oscar Gutierrez seems to have his fingers in a lot of this current renaming craze. On the Next-door website, he's infuriated Westside residents with his push to have San Andres Street renamed "Dolores Huerta Street." Enough with this renaming bullshit and taking down historical plaques!

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