This Monument to White Supremacy Hides in Plain SightRoundup
tags: slavery, racism, monuments, Francis Drake
Richard White is an emeritus professor of American history at Stanford University and the author, with the photographer Jesse White, of “California Exposures: Envisioning Myth and History.”
In 1894 Episcopalians commemorated Drake’s landing in California and what they saw as the first Protestant service in North America by erecting a giant sandstone cross — a “sermon in stone” — intending it to be visible from ships entering the Golden Gate. Trees gradually grew up around it; many of its inscriptions have weathered and some have disappeared. But the cross — a denominational symbol in a public park — has a lot to tell us.
The invisibility of Drake’s Cross may make it the most fitting monument to white supremacy in the country. Quite unintentionally, the sandstone cross records the persistence of racial ideologies and their decline, their viciousness and their vacuousness, the horrors they condone and the ridiculousness of what they commemorate.
It is an attempt to enshrine Anglo-Saxonism, which is a late-19th-century variant of white supremacy. It carries us back into a putatively Anglo-Saxon America, when, with deep worries about the racial identity of a heavily immigrant city, many Californians became crazed over the long-dead Drake. They enlisted him to shoulder the white man’s burden.
Drake’s Cross actually commemorates a nonevent. Francis Drake neither sailed into San Francisco Bay nor set foot on the site of San Francisco, although he very probably landed somewhere nearby in 1579.
He spent a month somewhere in California (or maybe Oregon) repairing his ship before crossing the Pacific. Californians named things after him and built monuments to him.
Now, along with people in California, Black Lives Matter has made Drake a target in Plymouth, England, where Drake began and ended the round-the-world voyage that brought him to California.
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