Scrubbing California landmarks of racist symbols — and the word ‘negro’

Negro Bar is a park near Sacramento named after the state’s “first Black gold mining site.”
Negro Bar is a park near Sacramento named after the state’s “first Black gold mining site.”
(Courtesy of Black & Magazine)

This past weekend, the Mississippi Legislature approved the removal of the Confederate battle emblem from the state flag. It’s a sign of the times, historians say, that speaks to the turning spirit of the nation — even happening in a state that has remained a proud stronghold, clinging to enduring customs that nod to a romanticized version of the “Old South.”

Gov. Tate Reeves said he will sign the bill into law.

The deep south state was the lone holdout flying a flag that flaunts the Confederate “Stars and Bars,” which has long stood as a symbol of White supremacy, racism and slavery. Now, Magnolia State lawmakers say they will create a commission that will design a new flag.

Worldwide protests against injustice and racism have led to a revolt in the United States against monuments that honor public institutions or figures who stood for — or upheld — racism. The death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man police officers killed in Minneapolis has brought police brutality, racism and economic inequality in America into sharp focus. That has prompted the nation to look inward and soul search, which has now expanded to questioning the country’s tradition of celebrating controversial figures that honor its racist past.

Across the U.S., protesters have defaced, torn down or petitioned the removal of enshrinements honoring confederate soldiers, segregationists, slave traders, white supremacists and others identified as racist.

“There is no room in the hallowed halls of Congress or in any place of honor for memorializing men who embody the violent bigotry and grotesque racism of the Confederacy,” said Nancy Pelosi (D-CA-12), Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. On June 18, Pelosi ordered the removal of four portraits depicting confederate leaders from the nation’s Capitol.

In California, after 137 years, legislators announced the removal of statues depicting Christopher Columbus and Queen Isabella of Spain from the Capitol Rotunda. They had been on display under the building’s dome since 1883.

“As the first California Native American elected to the Legislature, I welcome removal of the statue. It is a symbol of genocide and atrocities toward Indigenous people throughout the world, including the United States,” said Assemblymember James C. Ramos (D-Highland), reflecting on the removal of the Columbus monument. “We need to harness this opportunity to portray factual history from the view of those who suffered. Yet, we must also focus on the present in order to change the future.”

These acts around the country have sparked a debate about whether or not history — and public memorialization of our past — should be sanitized.

Dr. Daniel Walker, an African American historian and professor, says not creating, funding or publicly displaying these symbols do not equate to “sanitizing” history.

“It is removing what are, in many cases, false history. It is correcting what are misinterpreted histories, and, at some times, removing what is fully oppressive history,” Walker told California Black Media.

Renaming CA State Park Negro Bar, formerly “Ni**er Bar”

In northern California, a movement to study and correct local symbols deemed racist is brewing around one of the state’s African American-themed landmarks. Negro Bar is an area located within the Folsom Lake State Recreation Area near Sacramento.

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