Arcata's McKinley Statue Faces More Removal Efforts

Nov 9, 2017

Credit Natalya Estrada/KHSU

The question of whether or not the statue of former U.S. President William McKinley in the center of the Arcata plaza has divided a community. 

Some want the statue removed, while others don’t want to remove part of Humboldt history.

For the most part, Humboldt State University students have maintained a negative stance on the statue. Students like Nathaniel McGuigan and Sandra Sandoval, co-chairs of MEChA at HSU, feel the statue represents imperialism, racism and ultimately must be removed from the city square.

“As far as we know, as MEChA, this movement had started in 2005 and has continuously progressed over the years with each different activist group trying to remove the statue," McGuigan said. 

Eli Lechman, who represents HSU’s associated students as Lobby Corps Chair says the statue’s removal is a self-revealing prophecy, especially with the political climate under the Trump Administration.

“The community has become slowly more amenable to this. Like the movement of all the other statues coming down has been important. People are coming here and staying here so that means there’s a lot more Hispanic people that live here and there’s going to be more people voting," Lechman said. "This is going to be one of those things that eventually will happen so why not deal with it now?”

While a large majority of students stay in Arcata for a shorter amount of time than typical residents, MEChA co-chair, Sandoval says decisions made in city council still have an impact.

“I know for city council, like they didn’t want to take that into consideration before because they’re like ‘they’re always moving it doesn’t matter but we’re here for a good amount of time for us to matter enough,” Sandoval said. 

Arcata city councilman Paul Pitino agrees with her. 

“They’re equal. All of them. So whatever 90 day wonder you have to be to be a registered voter here. You’re as important to me as a person who’s lived here their whole life. Period. Ok I can’t say oh let me qualify your vote because you’ve been here forever," he said.

Pitino also says the issue has been around for more than a decade. When it comes to leaving the statue as is, or tearing it down, Pitino says he’s not attached to either idea. He also said the history of the statue has roots in San Francisco and was created by an Armenian Artist, Haig Patigian, and survived the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. The statue was then bought and gifted to the city of Arcata by local business man George Zehnder.

“The population is divided. It doesn’t matter the demographic. Social economic, whatever. They’re all 50-50 on this thing," Pitino said. 

He said previous efforts to justify the statue were made to create a plaque to recognize Armenian Genocide, but that those plans fell through. This year a petition to remove the statue along with a plaque adjacent to the Jacoby Storehouse has created some more momentum and supporters to remove the statue can sign it online at Change.org. 

Meanwhile,  Pitino says the conversation on what to do with the McKinley statue comes and goes but that he hopes the community can decide amicably on what to do. The status of McKinley is set to be further discussed at a future Arcata City Council meeting in December.