NAACP says no to park name

Sacramento chapter weighs in on Shockley controversy
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
-A +A
Naming an Auburn park in honor of a racist has earned the wrath of the NAACP. The Sacramento chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has put its support behind efforts by Auburn residents opposed to a decision by the Auburn Recreation and Parks District board to accept a 28-acre bequest on the condition that it be named after William Shockley. But park district Chairman Curt Smith said while he believes that no one on the board supports or condones Shockley’s point of view or actions, it would not be possible to undo what has been done — and either give the land back or keep the land and not abide by conditions of the gift. The board accepted the 28-acre parcel from Shockley’s widow last spring on the condition that it be named “Nobel Laureate William B. Shockley and his wife Emmy Shockley Memorial Park.” No discussion of Shockley’s connection to eugenics and racist views took place before the vote. Betty Williams, Sacramento NAACP branch president, said her organization strongly advocates reconsideration of the vote and will be supporting efforts to “prevent the Auburn community from bearing the stain of racism.” In recent weeks, the Shockley park issue has been the subject of a Wall Street Journal story, a segment of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s “As It Happens” radio show, and an item on the London Times Web site. Shockley, who died in 1989, was co-winner of a Nobel Prize in 1956. But his public embrace of eugenics in the 1960s and contention that whites were intellectually superior to blacks have sullied his public stature. He never lived in Auburn. The property, off Shockley Road, was bought by Shockley’s parents in the early 1900s. Eugenics is a movement devoted to improving the human species through the control of hereditary factors in mating. Most infamously, it was embraced by the Nazis in Germany and served as a pseudo-scientific rationale for the holocaust. “Mr. Shockley is a notorious eugenicist whose pseudo-scientific racism called for the sterilization of people of color, persons with disabilities, Native Americans and the Jewish community,” Williams said. “America in the 21st century is going forward and this struggle in Auburn speaks to the forever vigilant readiness that conscious people in our democracy must maintain to protect the equal rights of all Americans.” Smith said the dilemma facing the parks panel is “what now?” Input in the six months since the board accepted the property and then learned about Shockley’s eugenics history have been evenly spread between people opposing accepting the property with naming conditions attached and others who feel Shockley’s beliefs should be ignored to allow the community to enjoy the benefits of the parkland, he said. The district has explored the possibility of giving the property back, Smith said. “According to the administrators of the now-dissolved trust, that is not possible,” Smith said. “The property has changed hands, ARD is now the owner and it is expected that they will comply with the conditions of the gift. Consequently, the district has few options to consider.” Smith added that, to the best of his knowledge, the district has no plans either currently or in the near future to erect signs on the property naming the park. What is in question is not whether the district’s board and staff is aware of Shockley’s history and beliefs, he said. “What is in question is what realistic options does the district have and what is the most prudent way to proceed?” Smith said. Karen Tajbl, who has helped organize opposition to honoring Shockley by naming a park after him, said she was pleased with the new level of support from an African-American organization whose coverage area includes Placer County. Tajbl said she’s hoping an NAACP representative will be at the Sept. 24 meeting of the parks district board to speak on an issue that is resonating on a larger stage. She noted that the civil rights movement in the 1960s was bolstered by volunteers from Northern U.S. states. “Sometimes it takes outsiders to prick our consciousness,” she said. Gus Thomson can be reached at or comment at --------- William Shockley’s misguided legacy • The Nobel Prize co-winner had no formal training in genetics or psychology but developed a racist theory he called dysgenics. • Based his assumptions on now-disregarded Army induction IQ tests, Shockley concluded Blacks were inherently less intelligent that Caucasians • Suggested that individuals with IQs below 100 undergo voluntary sterilization, with the government paying them to do so. • Ran for the U.S. Senate’s California Republican nomination in 1982 on a dysgenics platform and placed eighth. • “Sadly, when he died at 79 of cancer, he regarded his work in genetics as more important than any role he played in creating the $130 billion semiconductor industry.” — Source: 1999’s Time Magazine “The Time 100: The Most Important People of the Century”