Nevada City gives Sargent statue thumbs-down | TheUnion.com

Nevada City gives Sargent statue thumbs-down

A proposal by a nonprofit group to install a statue of U.S. Senator Aaron Augustus Sargent and his wife, Ellen, at the top of Broad Street was shot down by Nevada City's city council Wednesday night.

The Famous Marching Presidents had already commissioned a sculptor to create a maquette of the senator sitting on a bench with his wife standing next to him, to honor his penning of the 19th amendment.

According to Beth Ann Wilson, the executive director of the Famous Marching Presidents and the Sargent project, Sen. Sargent introduced the amendment, which would give women the right to vote, in 1878. The amendment was not passed until 1919, however.

The Famous Marching Presidents wanted to highlight the Sargents, who settled in Nevada City in 1850, with a full-sized statue to be installed in August 2020, the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment.

But as word spread of the plan, Nevada City residents pushed back.

For one, some said the location would pose a safety hazard. And some felt the statue was poorly conceived, with Ellen Sargent appearing subservient to her husband.

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By far the biggest issue for those who spoke against, however, was Sargent's support of the Chinese Exclusion Act. That law, as Nevada City resident Don Joy noted, prohibited the immigration of all Chinese laborers and was one of the first laws barring immigration based on a specific race and national origin.

Residents packed the council chambers Wednesday to voice opposition to the statue, decrying Aaron Sargent's racist views and urging the council to push for a more inclusionary monument.

Daniela Fernandez told the council members that in the South, cities are taking down racist statues, and questioned why Nevada City would want to put up a racist statue to honor someone who dehumanized an entire race of people.

Bill Drake urged the council to encourage inclusion, adding the Sargent statue does just the opposite.

"It's an affront to Asian Americans and to all who believe in justice," he said.

Eliza Tudor of the Nevada County Arts Council told project organizers, as well as the audience, to see the divide as "an invitation to a conversation."

"This is classic for a public art process," she said, adding the role of public art is to open conversations that might feel uncomfortable and awkward. "Through this, we become more of a community."

Mayor David Parker recused himself from the discussion due to his membership in the Famous Marching Presidents. The other council members noted they had received numerous calls and emails against the statue and could not support it.

"We are in a time when, this is not a man we need to honor," council member Erin Minett said. "We will make the front page of the New York Times if we do this — we would become a laughingstock."

Council member Reinette Senum called the debate "a lightning rod conversation."

"This is a teachable moment," she said. "I want us to actually learn from this."

Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at lizk@theunion.com.