Update, 10/15/2020, 3:30 p.m.: the council approved Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria’s resolution to create a list of city assets named for individuals and examine their past for racism or bigotry. The motion passed 4-1, with Garry Bredefeld voting no, and Mike Karbassi and Paul Caprioglio not recording votes.
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Could names of well-known parks and buildings in Fresno change?
City Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria is proposing a resolution at Thursday’s meeting that would prohibit the naming of city facilities “after a cultural or historic figure known to be racist or bigoted.”
“We want to make sure that we are on the right track to ensure that we are not naming any facilities in the future behind any one that is racist or bigoted.” — Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria
It could also apply to current city buildings and parks.
“We don’t really have a process in place currently. So we thought that it would be great for our historic commission to review it, study and then make a recommendation to the council,” Soria said. “We want to make sure that we are on the right track to ensure that we are not naming any facilities in the future behind any one that is racist or bigoted.”
Her resolution would task the Historic Preservation Commission with reviewing current facility names, looking into the backgrounds of those who have received the naming honor.
Soria’s motivation was the revelation that John Euless, a 1920s business figure in Fresno — for whom the baseball field Euless Park at Fresno City College is named — was a member of the KKK.
Two Fresno historians GV Wire℠ spoke with welcome the examination.
Historians the Right People to Investigate
Karana Hattersley-Drayton served as Historic Preservation Officer for the city of Fresno from 2002-2017. She says the HPC is the right place to turn to for examining historical figures.
The seven-member board is tasked with preserving historic resources in Fresno.
“There’s a lot of very smart, caring people in the historic community. And so there will be a lot of good discussion,” Hattersley-Drayton said.
Elizabeth Laval, president of the Fresno County Historical Society, agreed.
“I believe that these committees are going to go forward with the best interests of the community at heart. The people that are being convened will be representative. They’ll be judicious. They’ll be well considered,” Laval said.
One potential challenge in renaming a park, Hattersley-Drayton noted, is if the naming was a condition of a gift of funds or property from an individual or family. There are several parks in Fresno, including Woodward and Roeding, that meet that description.
Another complication could be the Meux Home, which is owned by the city, but operated by a non-profit. The protocol is to name a historic home after its builder. Thomas Meux built the downtown house, now a museum, in 1889. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Meux served as a doctor for the Confederacy during the Civil War.
Looking Back with a 2020 Lens
Both Hattersley-Drayton and Laval said the HPC and council would need to balance their view of history with a 2020 perspective.
“The notion of racism and bigotry changes. What we didn’t even think about as racist 10 years ago or 20 years ago, much less longer, has changed. We have to be aware and be careful about responding to emotions of a time,” Hattersley-Drayton said.
Laval advised looking ahead to how things may be perceived in the future when naming a building or park after a person.
“It’s very difficult to know which lens the future will judge people from the past because the line changes, doesn’t it? The line changes, it moves. If we think it’s going to stop now, that’s insane,” Laval said. “Don’t shoot for the short game. Look down the line to the future and consider what lens will people be looking back at us in 50 years.”
KKK’s Fresno History Examined
In 2017, Geoffrey A. Ramirez — then a student at San Francisco State — published a history of the KKK in Fresno. The organization was active in the 1920s, led by Dr. L. F. Luckie.
Ramirez reported on Euless’ KKK affiliation. As Euless became a prominent businessman in town, his history with the KKK seemed to be whitewashed.
“The Fresno Klan was a branch of a fraternity which promoted racism, participated in mob violence, and attempted political manipulation of cities and states. These facts are damning and should not be ignored when analyzing any part of the Invisible Empire,” Ramirez wrote.
Of the names Ramirez mentioned, or those on a list published in a 1922 Fresno Republican newspaper story he cites, none appear to have any city facilities named after them.