Don Joy: Nevada City citizens should be heard on proposed Sargent statues
There is a proposal in the works to erect a full-sized bronze statue of Aaron Sargent and his wife at the top of Broad Street in Nevada City.
The specific location is in front of the large, white Victorian house that sits in the middle of the “Y” where East and West Broad streets split off of Broad Street. There is an agenda item scheduled for the Nevada City Council meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 8, to discuss and, possibly, consider this item for a vote by the City Council.
Since the project hasn’t been highly publicized, here are some points to consider before proceeding.
1. Safety. The East/West split of Broad Street is a dangerous place to cross the street. The placement of a life-sized bronze statue will create more traffic and attract the attention of pedestrians to cross the street at this intersection. The visibility, both to cars and pedestrians, is poor at best. There are possibly some plans to improve this intersection in the future, but they have not yet been made available to the general public. How this may affect the project remains to be seen.
2. Political correctness. The proponents of the statue cite their main reason for glorifying Aaron Augustus Sargent and his wife is that in 1878, Senator Sargent introduced the 29 words that later became the first paragraph in the 19th Amendment to the Constitution that gave women the right to vote. The bill calling for the amendment with Senator Sargent’s opening paragraph from 1878 would be introduced unsuccessfully each year for the next 40 years, with women finally winning the right to vote in 1920.
I don’t mean to minimize Senator Sargent’s part in this important Constitutional amendment, but does the impact justify a statue in his memory? There is already a plaque in front of the Sargent House on Broad Street.
What’s not so widely known or publicized is the fact the Aaron Sargent was also a noted proponent of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and for its renewal after it expired in 1892. The Act was eventually renewed in 1892 and again — indefinitely — in 1902, staying in effect until 1943. This law prohibited the immigration of all Chinese laborers and was one of the first laws barring immigration based on a specific race and national origin. The Chinese Exclusion Act made scapegoats of a specific ethnic group based on false assumptions and public prejudices. During a time of economic depression, politicians and white working men falsely blamed Chinese laborers for lowering wages, taking away jobs and draining the economy.
As the first group of non-European immigrants to come to the United States, the Chinese were condemned as “inassimilable vile heathens”; unfit to ever become American citizens. Like African Americans and Mexican Americans, they were physically different and therefore easy targets for discriminatory laws and racial hostility. Many cities and states are now removing memorials with racial overtones such as these and it seems inappropriate for Nevada City to be erecting a new one during these tumultuous times.
3. Neighborhood opinion. No one seems to have consulted with the homeowners in the area to get their opinion of the impact of this project on their neighborhood. I’ve spoken to many of the people who live in close proximity to the project location and the vast majority don’t know anything about it. The project is being treated by the proponents as a “done deal.” Models have been made, a location has been selected, a City Council vote is rumored, and fundraisers have apparently been initiated. What about the people and neighbors who will literally have this sculpture and its newly created public space in or near their front yards? Shouldn’t someone be speaking with them? Why the rush? Why is a prominent member of the City Council, who is also an influential member of the group promoting this project, pushing so hard to get it done?
I urge the City to present all of the facts to all of the citizens of Nevada City, and especially the neighbors and cultural groups that will be impacted the most by this project. Give these folks the opportunity to consider their options and express their opinions.
By approving this project, the Council will be creating a new public space and potential gathering place in a residential neighborhood. The citizens of Nevada City deserve the chance to comment and decide how and where they want the image of their town displayed.
Don Joy is retired and lives happily with his wife, Christine, in Nevada City.
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