*A statue of a conservative figure who had opposed the right of women to vote stood in Portland, Oregon’s Mount Tabor Park until last summer’s racial reckoning, when protesters knocked it down.
Last weekend, in the dead of night, someone crept in and put in its place a bust of York, the Black man enslaved by Lewis and Clark during their expedition.
According to reports, officials believe the bust was crafted with a 3D printer. The person or persons behind it somehow got it into the park without being detected and placed it on top of the pedestal, which is around 10 feet high. On Friday night, as is routine, park rangers shut gates on the roads and locked them at 10 p.m. closing time. On Saturday morning, a maintenance worker discovered the York bust suddenly perched on the empty pedestal.
“None of those gates had been damaged. None of those locks had been damaged. And so we do feel that this was brought in on foot,” said Tim Collier, community relations manager for the city parks department.
The artist’s depiction of York, whose image has never been painted, shows him seemingly deep in thought, his eyes cast downward. People have flocked to the bust, which has sparked folks to seek more information about the unsung hero.
Historian Stephen Ambrose, in his book “Undaunted Courage” about the expedition, said Native Americans were fascinated by the first Black person they had ever seen.
“They did not look upon him as a slave or as a mere man, but as an extraordinary person more interesting and elevated than any of his companions,” the National Park Service says in a brief biography.
After the expedition was over, everyone but York was rewarded with money and land. York, whose wife was also a slave and lived in another town, demanded freedom as a reward for his services on the expedition, Ambrose wrote. But Clark refused and even gave him “a Severe trouncing” for being insolent.
Clark later claimed to a friend that he’d freed York. Historians haven’t been able to verify that.
Collier said that in the legends of the expedition, York’s role has been overlooked, and that the bust “is really furthering that conversation here in our very, very white city.”
Portland Parks and Recreation Director Adena Long said in an interview that she hopes the artist comes forward to possibly have a conversation about making York a permanent art installation.
York’s story is told in this video about the dedication of a York Memorial at Lewis & Clark College on May 8, 2010:
Below is a piece from a one-man show titled “Through The Eyes of York.”