Credit: CA. State Parks
July 6, 2021 - As part of California State Parks' commitment to redressing racist and discriminatory features within the Parks system, a 1948 memorial honoring Madison Grant in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park has been removed.
The large stone monument was removed by an excavator during a small ceremony on June 15, attended by California State Parks and National Park Service leaders, history scholars, and representatives of the Yurok Tribe and Save the Redwoods League. The ceremony focused on both acknowledging the past while creating a more inclusive and equitable park system for the future.
California State Parks, Save the Redwoods League, and other partners have been in discussions for several years about how to address problematic historic memorials and outdated interpretive exhibits related to the founders of the Save the Redwoods League, found in several state parks in Northern California. These planning efforts are part of a larger effort within California state government called the Reexamining Our Past Initiative, to identify and redress discriminatory names of features attached to the state parks and transportation systems. The move comes in the wake of a national conversation about the names of geographic features and builds upon Governor Gavin Newsom’s work to support equity, inclusion and accountability throughout the state to better reflect our values.
In 2020, the North Coast Redwoods District of California State Parks took action towards this effort by installing an interpretive sign in “Founders Grove” (Humboldt Redwoods State Park), that added context to the story of the founders of Save the Redwoods League beyond their conservation efforts. That same year the League publicly acknowledged and disavowed the racist beliefs of those same founders.
Additionally in 2020, California State Parks received a letter from 212 academics, requesting the removal of the Madison Grant Memorial Rock in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park due to Grant’s role in promoting racist, anti-Asian, eugenicist and anti-miscegenation laws. The letter was prepared by David McIntosh, a historian of race and science at UC Santa Barbara, Dr. Paul Spickard (History, UC Santa Barbara) and Dr. Rena Heinrich (Dramatic Arts, University of Southern California). The scholars also presented their letter to the Council of the Pacific Coast Branch of the American Historical Association, which passed a resolution of support.
The North Coast Redwoods District’s superintendent, Victor Bjelajac, decided to take action.
“California State Parks and our partners recognize the dark truth behind some of the 20th century’s most prominent conservationists, including League founder Madison Grant,” said Bjelajac. “Grant used his privilege to advocate for and influence the development of discriminatory laws impacting millions of people across the world. While we value his contribution towards protecting ancient redwoods, we fully reject his racist ideology and are committed to creating a park system for all people, regardless of race, creed, or ethnicity. The Madison Grant Memorial has stood in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park for three quarters of a century. It is long overdue that we remove it. Going forward, we will focus on honoring those people who build parks for everyone.”
According to Rosie Clayburn, the Yurok Tribal Heritage Preservation Officer, “We applaud State Parks’ decision to remove the Madison Grant Memorial. In addition to espousing racist ideologies, members of the eugenics movement destroyed numerous Native American burial sites to collect the skulls that were used to support their ridiculous and harmful claims. We encourage all conservation groups to take a hard look at their founders and follow the North Coast Redwoods District’s lead when it comes to eliminating monuments to hate.”
In addition to removing the memorial from Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, California State Parks will be installing a new interpretive sign for the site that tells the fuller story about Grant, his conservation legacy, and his role in the eugenics movement. The exhibit, created with input from the academics, the National Park Service, Save the Redwoods League, and the Yurok Indigenous Community, will be placed on the location where the Madison Grant Memorial previously stood.
“Save the Redwoods League has been working closely with our redwood park partners to share a more honest and complete narrative about the early leaders of the redwood conservation movement, and in particular, to repudiate Madison Grant’s racist beliefs,” said Sam Hodder, President and CEO of Save the Redwoods League. “We collaborated with our partners on the new sign in order to help explain why the rock was removed and provide a fuller accounting of Grant’s legacy. This work is critical to empowering all people to build meaningful connections with our parks, and it’s an opportunity to begin healing ourselves and our communities from historical wounds.”
The new interpretive sign will be installed in the park later this summer and will be unveiled at a public event in the fall. That event will focus on creating a state and national park system welcoming to people of all backgrounds, races, and ethnicities.
Source: CA. State parks