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Regional Interests

This Juneteenth, Sculptures Honoring African Ancestors Arrive in Golden Gate Park

If everything goes as planned, come June 19, Oakland artist and See Black Womxn co-founder Dana King will unveil a 350-piece art installation in Golden Gate Park’s Music Concourse. Sponsored by the Museum of the African Diaspora and the San Francisco African American Chamber of Commerce, Monumental Reckoning will surround the site of the toppled Francis Scott Key statue, and remain in place for two years.

King is currently working to complete the installation for its Juneteenth unveiling, fashioning four-foot-tall sculptures from steel and vinyl that represent the 350 African ancestors who were abducted and forcibly taken to the United States as the country’s first enslaved people.

“I really see that people acknowledge the need for a piece that speaks truth to the story of African descendants and brings their memories out into the public,” King says.

The Key statue was removed from the park after protesters pulled it down last Juneteenth, along with statues of Father Junípero Serra and Ulysses S. Grant. In addition to penning the poem that became the national anthem, Key was a slaveholder who opposed abolition.

Along with King’s installation, the phrase “Lift Every Voice” will shine on top of the Spreckels Temple of Music. The phrase comes from James Weldon Johnson’s poem Lift Every Voice and Sing, which has been known as “The Black National Anthem” for over a century.

Ben Davis, CEO of the nonprofit organization Illuminate, says the decision to use this phrase fell into place because it directly opposes Key’s legacy as the author of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

“We found it interesting that we could be celebrating the Black national anthem at one end of the music concourse, while there was this vacated monument to the national anthem at the other end,” Davis reflects.

The Monumental Reckoning project has received support from a number of Black women leaders, including Mayor London Breed and former Black Panther member, Fredrika Newton.

King has relied on neighbors and other artists to help finish the hundreds of sculptures by June. She says she has to complete around 80 sculptures a week to stay on schedule. Illuminate launched a GoFundMe on May 1 to help fund the installation, aiming to raise $350,000.

“I’m actually a little overwhelmed at the approval and the ease of this process,” King says. “It reinforces my faith in humankind because I do believe that we are much better than we are. It really is proof of a shift, of a reckoning.”

The project will still need to be approved by San Francisco’s planning commission and the historical preservation committee early next month. It’s expected to be exhibited through June of 2023.

“Art is an integral answer to the struggle, because if one aspect is missing, then it’s not a hundred percent,” King emphasizes. “We all have to work in the arenas that we do and continue to fight for equity and justice.”

Copyright 2021 KQED