By Kiet Do

SAN JOSE (KPIX) — After nearly two decades, the days may be numbered for the statue of a 19th-century San Jose city mayor. The Arts Commission has unanimously approved the removal of the controversial Thomas Fallon statue in downtown San Jose, clearing a major hurdle, and paving the way for a council vote next month.

The vote on Monday by the commission, follows the Art Committee vote in May, which also recommended its removal. Link: https://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2021/05/06/san-jose-arts-committee-votes-to-remove-controversial-statue-thomas-fallon/

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Commissioners cited the “deep turmoil” the statue is causing within the community, and was now an “unwelcome symbol”.

Mayor Sam Liccardo, who penned a blog post in February titled ‘Viewing Yesterday’s Symbols with Today’s Eyes’ supporting the removal (https://samliccardo.medium.com/statues-and-truth-e9e2f8ad9866), said there would likely be enough council votes to approve it.

“I’m not interested in cultural wars. At a time when we’ve got to really focus on the crisis that we are facing right now, with a pandemic, with homelessness, affordable housing, everything else we’re grappling with. So, as I see it, if removing the statue enables us all to move on as a community, let’s remove this statue and let’s move on. We’ve got a lot to focus on as a community,” said Liccardo.

The statue was installed in 2002, and depicts the former mayor of San Jose hoisting the American flag at the end of the Mexican-American War, as a symbol of the United States claiming California from Mexico.

In the wake of the George Floyd protests and widespread push for social justice, the statue became a gathering point for protests, and targets for vandals who splashed red paint on the figures in September 2020.

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Tuesday also marked the 53rd anniversary of the 1968 Summer Olympics medal ceremony, where former students Tommie Smith and John Carlos stood upon the podium with fists raised in the air, protesting social injustice.

Speaking at the event, Akilah Carter-Francique, Associate Professor of African American Studies, and Executive Director of the Institute for the Study of Sport, Society and Social Change, said San Jose, like much of the nation, was undergoing a “racial reckoning and racial awakening”.

“By having these statues removed, you’re removing that hurt,” said Carter-Francique. “You’re creating a space to say ‘it’s now time to heal.’ And I think by replacing them with statues that uplift, empower and educate and bring forth that history, this is the right time.”

Scott Myers-Lipton, Professor of Sociology at San Jose State, said public statues of controversial figures often gloss over negative and unsavory histories, and instead cast the figures in a positive light.

“There needs to be an explanation about it, put it in historical context. Maybe it’s in a museum, or maybe it’s in a space where there’s a dialogue that can happen. Because I don’t think you should erase the history, but it’s history that should be taught,” said Myers-Lipton.

If approved, at a cost of $150,000, the city will remove the 12,000 pound statue and put it in storage. An academic institution could take the statue for educational purposes, with approval of the city.

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The council’s final vote on the removal of the statue will be on November 9.