Unseal the Deal

The plaque installed by the city in 2017 and seen here was meant as a corrective, but someone pried it off in protest.

Serving in the U.S. Army, he helped decimate Native American tribes and clear them off their land. When the Civil War came around, he defected to the Confederacy, enlisting as a brigadier general to defend slavery.

But Robert Selden Garnett also did something for which he was memorialized in Monterey: He designed the state seal of California during the 1849 constitutional convention at Colton Hall.

A plaque honoring Garnett was dedicated on the lawn of Colton Hall in 1957 by a racist group that was apparently disgruntled about the nascent civil rights movement. In 2017, following the neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, the city of Monterey took a cue from black activists and removed the Garnett plaque. Thus came down one of 10 confederate monuments in California.

In place of the original plaque, the city installed a new memorial plate about the state seal noting it was designed in Monterey by Garnett, with no mention of his Confederate history.

Over the weekend of June 13-14, the new plaque was removed, too, but not by the city. Someone unknown pried it off the rock it was attached to and left behind a piece of cardboard scrawled with the words, “Celebrate real heroes. No place of honor for racists.”

In response to an inquiry by the Weekly, Assistant City Manager Nat Rojanasathira says the city would not pursue criminal charges and has no plans to replace the plaque. “We don’t need to celebrate the designer of the seal,” Rojanasathira says. “We can acknowledge the seal without honoring Garnett.”

For those interested in the history, Rojanasathira points to the city’s archives, which contain extensive material on Garnett.

Asaf Shalev is a staff writer at the Monterey County Weekly. He covers the environment, agriculture and K-12 education, as well as Seaside, Marina, Sand City, Big Sur and Carmel Valley.

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(2) comments

merjar ram

This message is for anyone who is sympathetic to the removal of this plaque. I don't expect to change anyone else's mind, so that's not the purpose of this.

Here is how I see it:

- Public plaques are honorific by their very nature.

- Garnett was selected for this public honor expressly and only due to his ties to the Confederacy.

- The original installation was funded by, and done at the behest of, a pro-Confederacy group.

- The installation's tacit goals were to shore up white supremacist ideals during a time in history when those ideals were viewed as threatened.

- Changing the text on the plaque (which was the initial "corrective" action taken by the city) still honors the same individual and changes nothing about the reasons why the plaque was placed.

- If the point of the plaque is truly to honor what occurred at Colton Hall during the convention, then why continue to single out Garnett for the sole public honor? Was his contribution truly the most important one? A logo?

- Nothing whatsoever is lost by removing the monument entirely. A record of all events under consideration still exists and can be accessed at any time.

Charles Saves

Remember the cross along the Rec Trail? That was cut down with a chainsaw in an act of vandalism just like this situation. Talk about cancel culture. What happens when any other public symbol, sign, statue or anything else that is deemed offensive and some unknown person decides to take matters into their own hands? The door is now wide open for mob rule. Destroy what offends you and that is ok. The government will take no action. These types of incidents are happening all over the country. Government officials, elected or employed, are content to help it along. It is all fine until it happens to you. Ask Olympia, Washington Mayor Cheryl Selby about how she embraced a movement until members of the movement showed up at her home and vandalized it. Criminal acts now drive policy. Don't be surprised if this escalates.

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