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.