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ARD: No sign planned at park

Statement issued to dispel concerns about naming land in honor of William Shockley
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Don’t expect a sign on an Auburn park honoring racist scientist William Shockley any time soon. That’s the message the Auburn Recreation District is sending out in the face of some unwanted high-profile media attention. The Auburn Recreation District has taken the unprecedented step of issuing a public statement to clarify future plans regarding the naming of newly-obtained parkland after Shockley. The statement — approved on a 4-0 vote late Thursday — positions the district and its current board as currently having “no intention, either now or in the near future, of erecting any kind of signage” on the 28-acre North Auburn site. The board voted last spring to accept the bequest from Shockley’s widow of the heavily wooded land off Shockley Road But a requirement in the will that it must be named “Nobel Laureate William B. Shockley and his wife Emmy L. Shockley Memorial Park” has stirred controversy. With national and international as well as local attention focused on the board’s decision, Auburn Mayor Mike Holmes has worked in recent weeks with board chairman Curt Smith and staff to craft a statement that would clarify the parks district’s stance. The board never discussed Shockley’s eugenics beliefs before approving the land transfer and name requirement. But Shockley’s racist views were outlined in a column in the Auburn Journal shortly after the vote. The Shockley park controversy has since been the subject of a Wall Street Journal article. A segment of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s “As It Happens” news show also featured the wrangle in a segment. The NAACP’s Sacramento branch has joined the debate, calling this month for reconsideration of the board’s decision to name the park after Shockley. Shockley, who died in 1989, espoused eugenics beliefs based on pseudo-scientific assumptions that were used as the foundation for millions of deaths in Nazi Germany. He claimed blacks were intellectually inferior to whites and called for cash payments to people with IQs under 100 who submitted to voluntary sterilization. That clouded his 1956 Nobel Prize for groundbreaking work on transistors. Holmes said he was unsuccessful in attempts to have the Wall Street Journal article make the distinction between the parks district and the city as a whole. The decision has cast “a dark cloud” over the city as a whole, he said. Shockley never lived in Auburn. The mayor said he was happy to see the statement approved. While the naming requirement was now “recognized on your official book,” there was no need to memorialize the park with William Shockley-specific signage, he said. The board’s statement would help clarify its position and let the public and international community know that the city or the park are not havens for racism, Holmes said. Barry Broad, chairman of Sacramento’s Jewish Community Relationship Council, said he would volunteer to find a legal way to have principals in the Shockley trust agree to another name other than William Shockley’s. The list of trust principals includes Wells Fargo Bank and the state Attorney General — both of which Broad said would not want the Shockley name on the park. “There are probably millions of other names of people or concepts that are better names,” he said. Golda Clendenin, an Auburn resident who opposes the park name, said she and others would continue to monitor the situation to ensure that future action doesn’t include a sign on the property honoring Shockley. “All that is required for evil to flourish is for good men to stand by and say nothing,” Clendenin said, quoting Elie Wiesel, a Nobel peace prize winner and Holocaust survivor. Donald Miller, a Highland Court resident and member of the NAACP, said he didn’t object to naming the park after Shockley. “Most all of us recognize that his preaching was nonsense,” Miller said. “I thought he was flaky but we allow people with flaky ideas to express themselves without going to prison.” Representing the Sacramento NAACP, second vice president Tyrone Netters said that his organization was standing firm on its opposition to naming a public park after Shockley. “Mr. Shockley chose not to highlight his electronic work on the transistor but rather to define the main priority of his life work as the advocacy of his sterilization plan – even up to his death,” Netters said. “The offer to the board to name the park after Shockley, given by his second wife, was an attempt to promote Shockley’s main priority – his racist views of eugenics.” Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com.