Portland, OR

Mt. Tabor's "York" Memorial Once Again Vandalized in What Appears to Be Another Racist Attack

Rose Bak

The statue continues to draw the ire of a contingent of Portlanders who resent the memorial.

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Photo courtesy of ArtNet

Following the toppling of newspaper editor and anti-women's rights activist Henry Scott, a new memorial appeared atop Portland's Mt. Tabor. A bust entitled "York" aimed to commemorate an enslaved African American man known only as "York" who was instrumental in the success of the Lewis & Clark expedition.

A placard placed beneath the statue explained the significance of York's role:

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.”

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York memorial in KentuckyPhoto courtesy of The Historical Marker Database

While the installation of the bust was not technically authorized by the Portland Bureau of Parks & Recreation, city officials celebrated the placement. Portland City Commissioner Carmen Rubio, who oversees the city's Parks Bureau, stated at the time:

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 sculpture and those involved in the installation have remained anonymous. Meanwhile, many Portlanders have trekked up to the top of Mt. Tabor to check out the statue and enjoy the view.

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Photo courtesy of City of Portland

Unfortunately, not everyone has embraced the art installation with enthusiasm. The York statue has been vandalized at least three times over the last four months, in what appear to be racially motivated attacks. In one attack, white supremacy symbols were painted on the statue.

Last month a white woman was caught on video defacing the statue with purple spray paint while yelling,

It’s love and unity, not to replace a white man with a f***ing Black man. That’s not f***ing unity.”

Racist vandals struck again this week, this time completely toppling the bronze statue from its base. The bust sustained significant damage and had to be removed from the park for repair. The commemorative plaque beneath the statue was also damaged.

Director of Portland Parks & Recreation Adena Long told the Willamette Week newspaper:

Unfortunately, the numerous racist responses to the memorial of a Black man forced to participate in the Corps of Discovery Expedition have not been a surprise. The latest act of vandalism is incredibly disappointing for me, and I’m sure the majority of Portlanders will miss seeing York at the top of Mount Tabor. Parks staff will inspect the installment after this latest incident to see if it can be salvaged.“

As Portland and the state of Oregon continue to grapple with its racist past, the damage of the York statue is a stark reminder that there's much work to do in the present as well.

#portland #oregon #york #racism #parks

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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.

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