comments

Dedicate park to eugenics victims?

Board member offers suggestion for Shockley land gift
By: Gus Thomson Journal Staff Writer
-A +A
Land in Auburn that has become a battleground over the racist beliefs of a Nobel-Prize-winning scientist could also become a monument to those who suffered or died because of those views. With his board garnering national and international media attention for accepting parkland on the condition that it is named after a racist scientist, the Auburn Recreation District’s Gordy Ainsleigh is proposing a memorial on the land honoring victims of the eugenics beliefs William Shockley championed. But an opponent to the name said it would still not remove the stain a park named after Shockley would leave on the community. Ainsleigh said Monday that he expects the recreation district’s acquisition and development committee to consider his request Wednesday to eventually turn the 28-acre site just east of Auburn city limits into both a park and a memorial for victims of eugenics. From there, Ainsleigh is anticipating a resolution could go forward for full discussion by the board Sept. 24. “The Shockley bequest is a magnificent opportunity to create a beautiful wildland park and educate future generations on the dark side of eugenics,” Ainsleigh said. This past week, the NAACP’s Sacramento branch joined the debate, calling for reconsideration of the board’s decision to name the park after Shockley. Earlier this month, the Shockley park controversy was featured in a Wall Street Journal article and a segment of Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s “As It Happens” news show. Eugenics beliefs based on pseudo-scientific assumptions were used as the foundation for millions of deaths in Nazi Germany. Shockley was a high-profile proponent of eugenics during the 1960s through his death in 1989, claiming blacks were inferior to whites and calling on cash payments for people with IQs under 100 who agree to voluntary sterilization. Ainsleigh said that one possibility would be to add wording to the park name to show that the land is also a memorial to victims of eugenics. The board accepted terms of the park bequest last spring to name it “Nobel Laureate William B. Shockley and his wife Emmy Shockley Memorial Park.” Ainsleigh said he feels the park district would lose the land in a legal suit with other possible Shockley heirs if it fails to abide by the terms of the bequest. Ainsleigh said that when he voted to accept the parkland from the estate of Shockley’s widow, he had no idea of the impact of eugenics in the early part of the 20th century. “I had no idea it served as justification for killing so many Jews,” Ainsleigh said. Now he said he wants the board to “take up the cause of the people criticizing us.” “It’s an opportunity to strike a blow against racism and eugenics,” Ainsleigh said. Karen Tajbl, an Auburn resident who opposes the Shockley name on the park, said that she and other opponents will be at the Sept. 24 meeting of the board to see if it takes any action on Ainsleigh’s proposal. Even then, it wouldn’t go far enough, she said. “They’ll be making it a monument for those people who were sterilized because of eugenics but it will still have Shockley’s name on the park,” Tajbl said.