After months of deliberation, the campus community has finally decided to move an iconic statue that students have walked past at Long Beach State for 51 years, in response to a growing argument that Prospector Pete may be a symbol of genocide.
Adding to this change will be a campus-wide discussion to find a new mascot for the school.
“In terms of finalizing a new mascot, I don’t want to give a too ambitious timeline. Change is coming soon,” said Leen Almahdi, vice president of Associated Students Inc.
According to President Jane Close Conoley, a group of students, faculty, alumni and staff have come to an agreement to move the statue, formally known as the “Forty-Niner Prospector,” from the plaza outside Liberal Arts 5. Current plans suggest the statue will be relocated to a new alumni center, which is still in the early stages of development.
ASI Senate passed a resolution last March to change the statue’s location. The resolution recognizes the violence that prospectors inflicted upon Indigenous peoples during the California Gold Rush and seeks to disassociate the campus from a symbol of genocide. Despite the statue’s controversy over recent years, the statue cannot be destroyed under the Visual Artists Rights Act.
“Prospectors did play a huge role in Indigenous genocide and although we do really appreciate the history of our university, we also want to acknowledge the history of Indigenous peoples and choose [a] mascot that is one, reflective of the diversity that we have on campus, and two, that honors our mission for inclusivity,” Almahdi said.
Craig Stone, program director of the American Indian Studies department, praised the decision to move away from Prospector Pete.
“For somebody who’s been involved since 1976, it’s just so cool,” Stone said. “Finally, the students rallied and … that’s like something awesome.”
Stone noted that at the time of LBSU’s inception, the campus was primarily populated by Anglo and Judeo-Christian students.
“…You’re taught about the genocide that happens in Europe, [but] not taught about the genocide that happened in your own state,” Stone said. “For us, [the 49er mascot] is an icon of genocide.”
University administration has also reached out to Forty-Niner Shops, asking to not restock inventory on shirts sporting Prospector Pete after its remaining items with the mascot run out.
The ASI Senate agreed to write up a referendum for a finalizing a new mascot, with one rule.
“The Cal State University system has asked us to stay away from people [as mascots],” Conoley said.
Lee Brown, a 1960 Long Beach State alumnus, retired journalism department faculty member, former ASI treasurer and Daily 49er editor, said the university should not prioritize the removal of the statue.
“I think what they need to do is get rid of Prospector Pete right after they get rid of [Reserve Officers’ Training Corps],” Brown said. “The ROTC and the U.S. Army killed a hell of a lot more Native Americans than Prospector Pete and the 49ers did. As soon as they talk about getting rid of ROTC, they can talk about getting rid of Prospector Pete.”
Brown said he’s one of the university’s alums who purchased an engravement on one of the brick’s surrounding the statue.
“[I paid] about $125 to buy a brick with my name on it at the foot of Prospector Pete,” Brown said. “And if they do anything to take away Pete, I want my money back.”
Emma DiMaggio contributed to this story.
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