Donor's Views on Race Spark Outcry Over Parkland:
Activists Criticize California Town for Accepting Gift's Terms That Plot Be Named for Scientist Who Backed Eugenics Movement
By BOBBY WHITE
AUBURN, Calif. -- This town in the Sierra Nevada foothills accepted the gift of a 28-acre plot from the estate of Nobel laureate William B. Shockley in March. The mostly forested land was to become a community park named after the famous physicist -- co-inventor of the transistor -- and his late wife.
Then the local newspaper pointed out that Mr. Shockley, who died in 1989, was a proponent of eugenics, a widely discredited movement most prominent in the 1920s and '30s that held that intelligence was racially linked -- and that called for sterilizing some Americans who were deemed socially and intellectually unfit.
Community activists and civil-rights organizations are criticizing Auburn's leaders for accepting the gift's terms that the park carry the Shockley name, and they are demanding that the town keep Mr. Shockley's name off the park or give the land back. "I cannot fathom how officials in Auburn would have the gall to name an area park after a white supremacist and think that would be readily accepted by residents," said Barry Broad, chairman of the Jewish Community Relations Council in Sacramento.
Officials in Auburn, a town of about 13,000 that is more than 90% white, said they didn't know about Mr. Shockley's eugenics ties at the time of the gift -- and don't support them -- but still plan to go ahead with the park.
The controversy in Auburn offers a window into a debate occurring in communities across the country about whether to strip the names of prominent historical figures from parks, schools and other institutions because of those people's views on race during earlier eras. ...
Eugenics has become a particular strike against once-respected historical figures in California. Last year, community groups persuaded lawmakers to strip the name of Charles M. Goethe, a prominent Sacramento-area banker in the early 1900s and founder of the Eugenics Society of Northern California, from a large Sacramento County park; it is now River Bend Park. In 2007, Sacramento's school board struck Mr. Goethe's name from a middle school and renamed it after Rosa Parks.
A reader writes:
Truly, to show how far we have come as a society and to turn our backs on racism and backward thinking, in general, we should turn our collective back on the transistor itself, tainted as it is with the stench of racism and eugenics. This would include, of course, the computer and all electronics which sprung from the transistor.
Sure, turning the clock back on progress by 60-plus years would cause some inconveniences, but it would be more than worth it to show how good and virtuous we are. For consistency's sake we must follow our logic to this conclusion.
And what about all the inventions of the founder of eugenics, Francis Galton, such as the weather map, the classification system that makes fingerprints usable in fighting crime, and the silent dog whistle?
Moreover, what about the entire field of statistics, which owes so much to flagrant eugenicists such as Galton, Karl Pearson, and Ronald A. Fischer? They invented much of modern statistics precisely to analyze differences among human beings. (And, I'm told, some bad people still use statistics for exactly those purposes). Therefore, statistics are inextricably bound up with evil and must be banned.
And when it comes to parks, this should be only the start! What about the Theodore Roosevelt National Park in the Badlands of North Dakota? TR was an outspoken eugenicist.
In fact, the National Park system, which PBS documentarian Ken Burns calls "America's Best Idea," was largely the work of eugenicists (e.g., Madison Grant was the prime impetus for saving the redwoods). Same for the National Forest system, which was started by eugenicist Gifford Pinchot. If we simply clear-cut all the National Parks and National Forests, then nobody would be tempted to ever again visit these sites with their evil historical associations.
While we're at it, let's revoke Winston Churchill's honorary American citizenship. He was another eugenicist.