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Is ‘Negro Bar’ an offensive park name? A new petition effort says it is

A look at scenic Negro Bar and the controversy over its name

A petition calling for Folsom’s Negro Bar Recreation Area to be renamed is gaining traction online, arguing that the current race-related name in a Sacramento, California suburb is outdated and offensive.
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A petition calling for Folsom’s Negro Bar Recreation Area to be renamed is gaining traction online, arguing that the current race-related name in a Sacramento, California suburb is outdated and offensive.

A petition calling for Folsom’s Negro Bar Recreation Area to be renamed is gaining traction online, arguing that the current race-related name is “out-of-date and offensive.”

The petition was initially created in September by Stockton resident Phaedra Jones after she saw a sign for the park while driving through Folsom. It has more than 3,800 signatures as of about 2 p.m. Wednesday.

“I was so confused, shocked, angry, putdown, sad, hurt, disrespected and in disbelief. I couldn’t believe that I had actually seen a sign that read ‘Negro Bar,’” Jones wrote in her petition.

The park’s name is derived from the racist moniker tied to a similar gravel bar just across the water where Black miners discovered gold during the Gold Rush. Through the 1930s, the site was known and identified with the racist term both in newspapers, and in at least one U.S. Geological Survey from 1941, according to the U.S. Board of Geographic Names.

“The Name Negro Bar has been offensive for literally decades. I am sure historians can find the name of at least ONE African American Miner or Settler whose name can be used,” reads one comment from a petitioner.

“It’s offensive and unwelcoming. The fact that we still haven’t changed the name reflects poorly on our community,” another said.

Last year, the U.S. Board of Geographic Names approved the renaming of “Negro Bill Canyon” in southeast Utah to “William Grandstaff Canyon,” honoring the black man who ran cattle in the area for whom the canyon had been pejoratively named after through the 1940s.

The California State Parks system said in a statement to KCRA that the organization has consulted with a former president of the Sacramento African American Historical and Cultural Society in the past, who said the name should not change in an effort to preserve the history of African Americans along the river during the Gold Rush.

“The retention of the name ‘Negro Bar’ is one of the only reminders of the African American presence in the area,” the statement reads, making the name, “very historically and culturally significant.”

Requests for comment to California State Parks were not returned.

The quiet and scenic park, located on the Northern shore of the Lake Natoma just off American River, is a popular kayaking and picnicking spot for locals. Most online reviews of the park make no mention of the name being problematic.

“The word negro isn’t even allowed on federal forms, but it’s still a name of a state park?” Jones wrote in the petition. “Why can’t this name be changed to something like Black Bar, or possibly name it after one of the men who first started mining there?”

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