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Folsom Lake. (Photo: parks.ca.gov)

Folsom Lake’s ‘Negro Bar’ to be Renamed Following State Park and Rec Vote

Area to be temporarily named ‘Black Miners Bar’

By Evan Symon, June 20, 2022 12:35 pm

During the weekend, the California State Park and Recreation Commission voted 7-0 to officially change the Negro Bar area of the Folsom Lake State Recreation Area to Black Miners Bar following decades of speculation, petitioning, and debate.

The controversy surrounding its name dates back to 1850, when a California newspaper first called that area of the American River ‘Negro Bar’ due to the area being favored by black gold miners coming to the state during the 1849 gold rush. While most of the miners had left by 1852, U.S. Census data and U.S. Geological Survey maps continued to refer to the area as Negro Bar. When the Folsom Lake State Recreation Area was established in 1956 following the completion of the Folsom Dam, the name of the area stuck, with parts of the park on Lake Natoma using the name.

Following the civil rights movement of the 1960’s, the term “negro” for describing an African-American quickly fell out of favor and became considered a racial slur. By the 1990’s, many had started calling for a name change to the park, with the State Park and Recreation Commission voting not to change it in 1999. But pressure continued to grow throughout the 2000’s and 2010’s. The state legislature began hearing of the issue every year like clockwork and the State Park web page even had to update to better explain why the area was named that.

In 2018, a petition, in correlation with an effort by the California State Parks to finally address a name change following increased requests from visitors to do so, let to the State Parks to finally have a formal public meeting on a possible name change. However, the meeting, scheduled for 2020, was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. But the George Floyd protests and subsequent wave of renaming of racially offensive places and things kept the name change issue in the news, with State Parks officials walking a thinner and thinner public tightrope over the issue.

“While African-American community leaders and historians have supported the continued use of this name in the past, California State Parks recognizes that such interpretations can change over time,” said California State Parks spokesperson Adeline Yee in a statement in 2020. “It is important for the department to hold a broad and open discussion with scholars, visitors, activists and families to understand perspectives and gain a wider understanding of the name’s usage and how it may impact the visitor experience and those who come in contact with the name.”

A name change vote

However, continued efforts by activists, locals, and state park officials led to the Commission hearing and vote on Friday. Testimony was given by many, particularly focusing on the hurt that the name caused and how the area was being avoided by more and more people because of the name.

“Some folks thought that ‘Negro’ actually is black in Spanish and that that is what it was about, not understanding, every time a Black person passes by that area, they’re punched in the face with that word,” noted Sacramento County Democratic Party Chairwoman Tracie Stafford during the weekend.

California State Parks Gold Fields District superintendent Barry Smith added, “When someone comes to me and tells me they can’t use the park because they’re uncomfortable using it, I take that really deep to heart. I feel that it’s my time to listen, and understand why, and what I can do to help.”

Others defended the name.

“It’s not the prettiest of names, but it’s part of the history of the area,” explained Folsom resident Isaac Jones to the Globe on Monday. “I think people are a little too sensitive about this. I mean, it comes from a group of black people trying to claim their fortune out here, just like everyone else at the time. That needs to be remembered. After all, we don’t retroactively call the Negro Leagues something else.”

In a statement before the vote, the Commission noted how they needed to both change a name that is offensive to many that has kept people out of the park while also not wanting to lose that historical connection that so many others wanted.

“Public and stakeholder input provided significant evidence that a majority of those engaged are either offended or see value in a change from the current name,” stressed the Department before the vote on Friday. “Some community individuals expressing that they are personally uncomfortable or do not feel safe in visiting the site due to the connotation of the name. Concern was also received from community members and interested parties fearing a name change that would lead to elimination of, or reduction of, recognition of the African American history of this area of the American River gold fields.”

Ultimately, in a 7-0 vote, the name was changed temporarily. In a nod to that history, the area will be known as “Black Miners Bar” for a short time while a more permanent name is to be found. The commission said that it could take up to a year for a permanent new name.

While some on both sides of the issue left the meeting unhappy, many ultimately agreed with the change and noted that something was finally done after decades of no action.

“As a Black woman who’s driven by that site, who’s known about that site, it’s been difficult,” said California State Park and Recreation Commission chairwoman Rue Mapp. “So, it is both professional and personal pride in the decision we’ve arrived at today.”

The Commission is to work with the California African American Museum over the next year to research the area and come up with a new permanent name sometime in 2023.

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Evan Symon
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3 thoughts on “Folsom Lake’s ‘Negro Bar’ to be Renamed Following State Park and Rec Vote

  1. Our State Parks have been allowed to devolve into absolute sh*tholes. Maybe they should focus on cleaning the restrooms before re-naming anything.

  2. Whom ever dreamed up a new name for this section of American River must of not been too smart.. it’s same might as well keep it negrow bar it’s proper for the river … Black will be seen as trouble later on down the road so waste more money why don’t you !

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