California State Park Named ‘Negro Bar’ Ignites Debate, Petition
By Sharelle Burt
Imagine sitting at a red light, minding your own business and then you look outside your window to see an offensive sign.
That’s what happened to Phaedra Jones while on her shift for Uber Eats in Folsom, Calif. So what did the sign say? “Negro Bar.” Jones immediately felt discomfort at that moment. “When I saw this, my first thought was “what the heck!?” Does this mean the bar behind it was a whites-only bar and across the way was for the negroes?” Jones said.
Intrigued by what she saw, Jones decided to do some research when she got home. What she learned was that sign was sitting in front of the Negro Bar State Recreation Area. There was where gold was first discovered by James Marshall at Sutter’s Mill in Coloma, California back in January 1848. By the end of that year, over 10,000 miners had arrived, making it California’s first black gold mining site. It wasn’t until the 1960s that maps used a different name to refer to the miners, a racial slur. Still, Jones was heavily offended that the dated sign was still standing, giving her the idea to start a petition to make a change.
“After reading about the history of the area, I am proud of the park,” Jones wrote in the petition, pleading for a name change. “But now the name Negro Bar has to go.” Today, Jones’ petition has more than 18,000 signatures, exceeding her original goal of 5,000. The petition made strides last week when the California Department of Parks and Recreation took notice and began looking at a possible name change. “While African American community leaders and historians have supported the continued use of this name in the past, we recognize that such interpretations can change over time,” Department Deputy Director of Public Affairs Gloria Sandoval wrote in an email to The Washington Post.
Jones isn’t the first one to take notice. Just last year, the San Francisco Gate looked into the negative reviews by park visitors via Facebook. Dennis Malone, who is black, gave the park one star and wrote “needs a name change to match its awesome beauty. I’d have one reason to visit that slap in the face park to change its name. I give it a half star only because God created it.” However, a lot of the black associations have looked the other way. With the park’s historical background, celebrations for Juneteenth and Buffalo Soldiers are held there and others have countered that the name removal may make an erased memory of the founding miners.
The appropriate use of the word ‘negro’ has been debated for years and is still very much relevant today. Last month, President Trump signed a bill that changed the name of Long Island, NY’s Negro Bar Channel to Joseph Sanford Jr. Channel in honor of an African American firefighter who died in the line of duty. Residents in Southern Utah proposed changing the name of Negro Bill Canyon in 2015, but the president of the Salt Lake City chapter of the NAACP argued that the name wasn’t offensive and should not be changed.
There is still hope for the name of the park to be changed as there is no need for a long process or federal approval. Sandoval said that California’s Department of Parks and Recreation is reviewing the proposal and will be soliciting public comment at a later date. “We welcome the opportunity to evaluate how to best honor and recognize the significant contributions of African American miners to this region,” she wrote.
As for Jones, she has since gone back to the state park to enjoy its wonder but still feels the necessity of the name change. “It’s a beautiful park,” she said. “But you wouldn’t know that if you just see the name Negro Bar.”