Effort to name it Thurgood Marshall Regional Park – Home of the Port Chicago 50 to honor “contributions made by Contra Costa’s African American community”; district staff recommends it without any general public outreach
Naming it for Supervisor Glover would better fulfill that goal
Or choose the historical name of Bay Miwok Chupcan Regional Park
District Board Executive Committee will discuss matter during Tuesday, May 11 meeting
Also name Antioch’s new park Roddy Ranch Regional Park
By Allen Payton, Publisher
An effort, launched last fall, is underway asking the East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD) Board of Directors to name their newest park, in Concord, after the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall rather than for the Chupcan tribe of the Bay Miwok, who inhabited the area in the 1700’s, as had been planned. This past week, Antioch Mayor Lamar Thorpe announced his support for the effort.
Now, district staff is recommending that name without any general public outreach to seek input on possible names, other than comments made during board meetings. The board’s Executive Committee will consider the matter during their meeting this next Tuesday, May 11. (See agenda item #3 and process for public comment at the end of this editorial)
The 2,540-acre, temporarily named Concord Hills Regional Park, located on the south side of Highway 4 and encompassing most of the former Concord Naval Weapons Station land, was slated to be named Chupcan Territories Regional Park. But last year, during a Sept. 3 EBRPD Board meeting public comment, Lewis Thrower, a spokesman for Citizens for Historical Equity proposed naming it for Justice Marshall because there are no regional parks in Contra Costa County named after African Americans. Marshall’s local connection is, as an attorney, due to his representation of the Port Chicago 50, the name given to the 50 Black sailors, although unsuccessfully, during their mutiny trial. They defied orders of their Navy commanders to return to work after the disaster that took the lives of 320 sailors and civilians and injuring 390 others on July 17, 1944 during World War II. That occurred while the stevedors were loading 5,000 tons of ammunition onto ships. The 50 sailors refused to return to work until safety measures had been put in place. They were each convicted on the charge of mutiny and given a sentence of up to 15 years imprisonment and dishonorable discharge from the Navy.
According to a NY Times report, almost all the sailors were released at the end of the war, including “47 who were paroled to active duty aboard Navy vessels in the Pacific Theater. Two of the 50 prisoners remained in the prison’s hospital for additional months recuperating from injuries, and one was not released because of a bad conduct record. Those of the 50 who had not committed later offenses were given a general discharge from the Navy ‘under honorable conditions’.”
According to the EBRPD Board meeting minutes, several other members of the public spoke in support of the naming proposal including Royle Roberts of Black Democrats, Willie Mims of the Black Political Association and Mable Minney of the Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Center. A white paper and an addendum on Thurgood Marshall, and a petition with over 700 signatures were cited, as well.
Thorpe wrote on his mayor’s Facebook page on Thursday, May 6, “he has endorsed naming Contra Costa’s newest regional park– Thurgood Marshall Regional Park-Home of the Port Chicago 50.” The reason he gave is because, “the proposed name would be a major step towards expanding a county narrative that includes the contributions made by Contra Costa’s African American community.” He claimed that there were now 880 signatures of people in support of the effort.
Thrower and Citizens for Historical Equity recommended one or more neighboring parks be named Chupcan Territories Regional Park, instead. Thorpe reiterated that in a comment below his Facebook post, which has since been deleted.
During the meeting, Diana McDaniel from the Friends of the Port Chicago National Memorial suggested the name be Port Chicago Memorial Regional Park so people don’t forget.
However, as the name of her organization demonstrates, there already is recognition with the Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial which was established in 1994 at the site and on the 50th anniversary of the disaster to honor those who lost their lives. Then, in 2019, on the 75th anniversary of the tragedy, Representatives Mark DeSaulnier and Barbara Lee reintroduced a resolution, HR 49, which states its purpose in the first paragraph as, “Recognizing the victims of the Port Chicago explosion of July 17, 1944, the 75th anniversary of the greatest homeland loss of life of World War II, and exonerating the 50 African-American sailors unjustly court-martialed by the Navy.” It passed the House in December 2019 as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (S.1790) listed in Sec. 540N as “Sense of Congress on the Port Chicago 50”. But the exoneration of the sailors was removed by the Senate before it was signed into law by President Trump on Dec. 20.
According to the memorial’s Wikipedia page, “the Port Chicago Committee is working to expand the current memorial to encompass 250 acres of the former Port Chicago waterfront.” Recognition of the Port Chicago 50 and Justice Marshall could be included there.
Bay Miwok Chupcan Tribe
According to ConcordHistory.com, “a small tribelet of Chupcan (Bay Miwok) Indians composed the first inhabitants of our valley. Dominated by a great mountain to their south, the Chupcan lived along the valley’s streams which flowed north to the wide tule marshes on the edge of the Bay.”
According to the Bay Miwok Content by Beverly R. Ortiz, Ph.D. on the EBRPD website, there were about 1,800 to 2,000 Bay Miwoks living in the area in six different tribes before 1770. According to the Museum of the San Ramon Valley, “One of those tribes, or tribelets as scholars call them, were the Chupcan of Diablo Valley.”
While Marshall was the first Black U.S. Supreme Court Justice and represented the Port Chicago 50 while an attorney, he wasn’t from Contra Costa County. To honor him by naming a regional park for justice would not expand “a county narrative that includes the contributions made by Contra Costa’s African American community.”
A more appropriate place to honor the Port Chicago 50 would be at the national memorial by adding each of the sailors’ names, now that they’ve been exonerated. Justice Marshall’s name could be added to it, as well for his efforts in defending them at trial. Their names should be listed on the National Parks Service website for the memorial, as well.
Federal Glover or Bay Miwok Chupcan Regional Park
If the goal is to honor contributions made by Contra Costa’s African American community, then I think a more appropriate name would be the Federal Glover Regional Park, for the first African American to serve our county on the Board of Supervisors and who has done so for over 20 years. In addition, he served the City of Pittsburg, East County and the county on transportation boards while a council member, prior to that. I would say Federal is the African American who has contributed more to our county than any other and should be recognized instead of the former justice who had a fleeting connection.
If not, then it should be named for the historic tribe that inhabited that part of our county. Since it’s doubtful that even those familiar with the history of the native peoples of Contra Costa would recognize the tribal name of Chupcan – it was news to me – Bay Miwok should be included in the name. If that’s the direction, then the new park should be named the Bay Miwok Chupcan Regional Park.
Roddy Ranch Regional Park
Also, while the Board is considering names for the district’s regional parks, instead of Deer Valley Regional Park, the newest one planned for East County, on the land owned and sold to the district by long-time rancher Jack Roddy, it should instead be named the Roddy Ranch Regional Park to keep the historical significance.
Members of the public can listen to and view the EBRPD Board Executive Committee meeting on Tuesday, May 11 in the following way: Via the Park District’s live video stream, on the Park District’s YouTube channel, which can be found at: https://youtu.be/pvK6M5XWBPI (The YouTube link may not function properly when using Internet Explorer. The optimal browser for viewing the live stream of the meeting is Chrome.)
Public comments may be submitted:
- Live via Zoom. If you would like to make a live public comment during the meeting this option is available through the virtual meeting platform: https://ebparks.zoom.us/j/94499652339. Note that this virtual meeting platform link will let you into the virtual meeting for the purpose of providing a public comment. If you do not intend to make a public comment please use the Youtube link above to observe the meeting. It is preferred that those requesting to speak during the meeting contact Becky Pheng at firstname.lastname@example.org by 5:00 pm on Monday, May 10, 2021 via email or voicemail at 510-544-2005 to provide their name and subject of the public comment or item to be addressed.
- Via Email to Becky Pheng at email@example.com by 5:00 pm on Monday, May 10, 2021. Email must contain in the subject line “Public Comments – not on the agenda” or “Public Comments – agenda item #”.
- Via Voicemail at 510-544-2005. The caller must start the message by stating “Public Comments – not on the agenda” or “Public Comments – agenda item #” followed by their name and place of residence, followed by their comments.