Portland, OR

New Statue in Portland's Mt. Tabor Park to Stay in Place for Now Despite Unauthorized Installation

Rose Bak


Anonymous, York (2010/2021). Photo courtesy of the artist.

A new statue that was stealthily installed atop Portland’s Mt. Tabor will stay in place – for now.

Since 1993 the site featured a statue of Henry Scott overlooking the city from its perch atop Mt. Tabor. Scott was the editor of the Oregonian newspaper for over forty years. He was a staunch conservative who famously fought against his own sister, Abigail Scott Duniway, to try to prevent women’s suffrage.

While Duniway has a small plaque over a running track commemorating her work, her brother Scott was honored with a statue made by artist Gutzon Borgium. Borgium also worked on the Mt. Rushmore installations in South Dakota.

Last October the statue was toppled and damaged as part of widespread protests against racial inequality. Several other prominent statues were toppled, including Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln.

The famed Elk statue downtown was also a victim.

All of the toppled statues were removed by City of Portland staff and put into storage with the Regional Arts Council.

In February a new sculture mysterious appeared, honoring a man named York. York is believed to the be the first African American to reach the Pacific coast. A slave owned by William Clark, York accompanied Clark and Merriweather Lewis on the Corps of Discovery tour to the West Coast.

By all accounts, York was considered an asset to the trip, including his ability to create relationships with the Native Americans the Corps of Discovery met on their way to Oregon.

The statue artist, who identifies as a white man, released a statement saying that he wished to remain anonymous in order to keep the focus on the subject, York.

The large metal statue appears to be bronze, and likely took at team of people to install given its size and weight. It includes an inscription which reads:

York. The first African American to cross North America and reach the Pacific Coast. Born into slavery in the 1770′s to the family of William Clark, York became a member of the 1804 Lewis and Clark Expedition. Though York was an enslaved laborer, he performed all the duties of a full member of the expedition. He was a skilled hunter, negotiated trade with Native American communities and tended to the sick. Upon his return east with the Corps of Discovery, York asked for his freedom. Clark refused his request. The date and circumstances of his death are unclear.”

Although no one is quite sure who installed the statue or when, for now the Portland Bureau of Parks and Recreation says the statue can stay. They have determined that it is structurally safe and does not pose any hazard to park visitors.

Portland City Commissioner Carmen Rubio oversees the Parks Department. She called the statue a “long overdue” recognition. Rubio released a statement on the York statue saying,

“The art piece depicting York, the first Black explorer to cross North America, should make all of us reflect on the invisibility and contributions of Black, Indigenous, Latinx and other Oregonians of color — especially artists. These individuals have made immeasurable contributions to the City of Portland, and we must change how we, as a city, recognize our histories moving forward. PP&R Director Adena Long and I, together with the team at Portland Parks & Recreation, are committed to keeping this installment in place for the foreseeable future, as well as additional parks collaborations with BIPOC artists, and taking steps to ensure our city policies regarding monuments, recognitions, and parks-affiliated names reflect our commitment to a fuller, more racially inclusive history of contributions to Portland.”

The installation has received overwhelming support despite the lack of the typical public process for art installations. Park visitors have been seen admiring the new tribute, and many prominent Portlanders have spoken out in support of keeping the statue and recognizing York's contributions.

There has long been a statue commemorating York’s contribution on the campus of Lewis & Clark College. That particular statue showed York standing beside William Clark of the Lewis & Clark exposition, however the statue was removed last year due to vandalism of the piece.

#portland #oregon #lewisandclark #york #protests #racialjustice

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Rose Bak is a freelance writer who lives in Portland, Oregon with her family and special needs dogs. She writes on a variety of topics including local news, homelessness, poverty, relationships, yoga, and aging. She is also a published author of romantic fiction. For more of Rose's work, visit her website at rosebakenterprises.com or follow her on social media @AuthorRoseBak.

Portland, OR

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