Wednesday Jun 03 2009
ACLU opposes Shockley park
By: Gus Thomson Journal Staff Writer
‘Callous and unacceptable’ of district to take gift
The idea of naming a 28-acre parcel of publicly owned Auburn parkland after eugenics proponent and Nobel Prize winner William Shockley is getting some high-profile opposition. The Sacramento County chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has come out against the Auburn Recreation District board’s recent decision to accept the parkland on the condition that it is named “Nobel Laureate William B. Shockley and his wife Emmy Shockley Memorial Park.” Jim Updegraff, the ACLU chapter’s chairman, said Wednesday that the group objects to the parks district board accepting a gift of land and money that’s contingent on a park being named after a man who was an avowed racist and believed African-Americans were inherently inferior. The parks board voted 3-2 on March 23 to accept the bequest but no discussion took place on naming the park after Shockley, who died in 1989 – 33 years after receiving the Nobel Prize for his pioneering work in electronics. In the ensuing years after the award, Shockley became a controversial eugenics proponent, advocating people with low IQs be paid to voluntarily have themselves sterilized. “We want to emphasize that Shockley was perfectly free to say whatever he wanted,” Updegraff said. “But that doesn’t mean the district should accept the gift with the condition that it be named after him.” The gift is an affront to African-Americans and shows a callous and unacceptable attitude on the part of district directors, he added. “Would they have accepted land to be named after Adolf Hitler?” Updegraff said. Scott Holbrook, a district director on the losing end of the March 23 vote, said Wednesday that the parks board doesn’t have the funding to hire an attorney to research possible legal alternatives to naming the park after Shockley. But Holbrook said he believes it would be open to working with ACLU lawyers to explore the possibilities. Holbrook was unaware of Shockley’s connection with eugenics when he initially voted against the district accepting the park. Director Curt Smith also voted against it. Holbrook’s objections revolved around what he considered upkeep costs the district couldn’t afford. Kahl Muscott, district administrator, said the board voted on a Thursday and the bank handling the estate had sent a check by the following Monday or Tuesday for the $50,000 in cash for park upkeep that was part of the bequest. It’s doubtful they’ll take it back, he said. Holbrook said that there is no majority of the board looking for ways to give it back. Two board meetings have since occurred, with the first drawing speakers both for the park purchase if the name was part of the bargain and for keeping the Shockley moniker off the park. The move to prevent Shockley from being honored with a park name has also drawn the support of Sacramento’s Jewish Community Relations Council. Chairman Barry Broad said the organization is outraged that the recreation district would name a park after a scientist whose name has become synonymous with racism. The council was on the front line in decisions in recent years to rename a Sacramento-area park and middle school that had honored Charles Goethe, another racist and eugenicist. “For many generations, racism masquerading as science has sought to harm religions and ethnic minorities,” Broad said. “Never forgetting means not honoring those who would pervert science in the service of racism.” Broad said his group is drafting a letter of objection to ARD board members. Muscott said one of the options open to the district board is to just hold onto the land and leave it as open space. The board has accepted the property, located off Shockley Drive, but hasn’t given direction on what to do with it. Part of the $50,000 is being used to develop a fuel-load management plan, Muscott said. The issue of a sign at the park – and what to write on it – also hasn’t been addressed by the board. The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.